Cannon won’t stay in Vegas
Appeal Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS – Nevada defended its in-state championship against UNLV -literally.
The Wolf Pack, who forced four turnovers and collected five sacks, nearly recorded the first shutout in the 32-year history of the rivalry, holding the Rebels to 227 yards offense in an easy 31-3 win over arch-rival UNLV before a crowd of 37,179 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Nevada improved to 3-2 after its third straight win, and UNLV dropped to 1-3 with its third straight loss.
This was certainly a win for the defense, which completely bottled up UNLV quarterback Rocky Hinds (153 yards passing and minus-62 rushing), and allowed just one big play, a 38-yard run by David Peeples late in the first half. Nevada allowed only 74 yards on the ground.
“Our defense played fantastic all game long,” said Nevada coach Chris Ault, who got a Gatorade bath in the closing seconds of the win. “To stop somebody (Hinds) like that. We played very disciplined and very structured on defense. To me it means a lot. To step up against that spread was great.”
“We played hard every play,” added nose tackle Matt Hines said. “One of our goals was not to give up big plays and we didn’t. We wanted to keep him (Hinds) in the pocket. It’s not a rivalry until you can win one on the road.”
This one got away from UNLV early, much to the chagrin of coach Mike Sanford.
“Obviously that was very disappointing,” Sanford said. “I am shocked that we played like that. I think we are a better football team than that.
“The thing got away from us early. They make the big play(s) and whenever we started to get something going we would turn the ball over. We made mistakes at the wrong time and had turnovers at the wrong time and those turned directly into points. The thing that is amazing is that those turnovers were on positive yardage plays. The ball was punched out from behind.”
The Rebels turned the ball over three times in the first half, and Nevada capitalized twice for a 17-0 lead.
Freshman Brandon Fragger, who gained a career-best 146 yards and scored twice in place of senior Robert Hubbard (knee injury) netted 11 yards on two carries.
Quarterback Jeff Rowe, who completed 8 of 14 for 119 yards, rolled right and found Mike McCoy wide open on the right seam at the Nevada 48. McCoy found a second gear, and roared down the sideline to complete the 79-yard play. Brett Jaekle’s PAT made it 7-0 with 11:11 left.
It was McCoy’s seventh catch of the season and his fifth TD grab.
Punter Zacary Whited pinned UNLV at the UNLV 5 with a 57-yard punt, and the Rebels turned it over on the next play, as Ezra Butler forced Peeples to cough up the ball. Joe Garcia recovered at the UNLV 29. It was the first of two fumble recoveries.
Rowe passed to Anthony Pudewell for 10 yards down to the UNLV 19. On third-and-4, Rowe was sacked for a 9-yard loss, and Jaekle came on to boot a 36-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 12:01 left in the half.
UNLV’s Eric Wright returned the ensuing kickoff down to Nevada’s 44, but Erick Jackson coughed up the ball after being hit by Josh Mauga, and Garcia recovered his second fumble of the game.
The Pack wasted the field position, going three and out. It was a microcosm of the first half, as the Pack easily could have been up by at least three touchdowns.
“We missed a couple of opportunities,” Ault said. “We could have had a couple of more (scores).”
Nevada cashed in on another UNLV turnover when Paul Pratt picked off a pass that went off the fingertips of Corey Anderson at the 41, and returned it 32 yards down to the 9.
Fragger gained four yards, and then scored from the 5 on the next play. Jaekle’s PAT made it 17-0 with 1:36 left in the half.
“That was key,” Ault said. “That gave us a lot of momentum.”
The Pack opened the second-half with a bang, as Fragger gained 11 yards to the Nevada 34, and then broke off a 66-yard TD run on the next play.
Fragger was hit inside the 10 by Wright, but managed to get into the end zone. It was the longest run from scrimmage by a Pack running back since Matt Milton gained 71 yards against San Jose State.
“That sealed the deal,” Ault said. “He really stepped up tonight.”
Fragger admitted he was a little wobbly legged at the end of the run.
After blocking a 56-yard field goal attempt by Luis Aguayo, Nevada put together its final scoring drive of the game, going 76 yards on eight plays. Kyle Eklund, a fifth-year senior, capped the drive with a 2-yard run, his first score of his career, to make it 31-0 with 13:04 left.
After the ensuing kickoff, UNLV put together its best drive of the game. Hinds completed passes of six yards and eight yards to Justin Marvel and a 17-yarder to Ryan Wolfe which gave the Rebels a first down at the 19.
The Rebels moved down to the 9, and Sanford elected to go for the field goal instead of the touchdown. Aguayo drilled a 21-yarder with 4:48 left. The Rebel fans booed their own coach for the decision.
“You have to make your own decisions,” Ault said when asked about Sanford’s decision.
“They just wanted to avoid the shutout,” Hines said.
Nevada intercepted a pass inside two minutes, leading to a near brawl. It didn’t appear any punches were thrown, but two UNLV players and Nevada’s Kevin Porter were ejected. It’s not certain whether they can play next week.
“Going out as a senior with a win over UNLV is big,” Rowe said. “If we had lost, it would have left a bitter taste in our mouths.”
Instead, the Pack left Sin City with the sweet taste of victory.