Wolf Pack want to bring Fremont Cannon back to Reno
For the Nevada Appeal
NEVADA WOLF PACK vs. UNLV REBELS
When: Saturday, 1:04 p.m.
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Radio: 630-AM, 94.5-FM
Team records: Nevada (4-7, 2-5), UNLV (4-7, 3-4)
The Nevada Wolf Pack hopes to return an old friend to Northern Nevada on Saturday night.
“Everybody in the community keeps telling us, ‘Make sure you go get it,’” Wolf Pack defensive end Malik Reed said this week. “Everybody wants it back.”
The Wolf Pack will meet the UNLV Rebels on Saturday afternoon (1:04 p.m.) at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas with the winner claiming the Fremont Cannon for a year. The heaviest (500-plus pounds) and most expensive ($10,000 to build in 1970) rivalry trophy in college football has been down in Las Vegas for the past year and wearing a coat of UNLV Rebel red paint thanks to UNLV’s 23-17 win at Mackay Stadium last year.
“It’s an empty feeling,” Reed said. “It just feels like something is missing. It’s something we want back.”
The Wolf Pack, which leads the Silver State series 24-17, won the cannon eight years in a row from 2005-12 but UNLV has won it twice in the last three years.
“They (the Wolf Pack) had kind of gotten used to having it as part of their furniture,” Rebel coach Tony Sanchez said. “It’s great to have it here painted red.”
“When I first got here I saw this vacant spot on the floor and I asked someone, “What’s that wooden (platform) over there for,”’ Rebel senior center Will Kreitler said. “They told me, ‘Oh, that’s where the cannon is supposed to be.’ Now that it’s here I hope it never leaves.”
UNLV hasn’t won the cannon two years in a row since it won it every year from 2000 through 2004 and hasn’t won it at home since 2004. No home team, in fact, has won this rivalry game since the Wolf Pack beat UNLV 37-0 at Mackay Stadium in 2011.
“I would like to get some blue paint stains on my jeans again this Sunday,” Pack coach Brian Polian said.
The Wolf Pack players are using last year’s UNLV game as motivation this week.
“It hurts,” offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. “I’ve been part of that (losing the cannon) twice now. We are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.” Pack safety Asauni Rufus said. “You feel helpless and all you have is regret, thinking about what you could have done differently. I remember last year thinking, ‘Everything is going to be all right next year. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.’”
The Wolf Pack and Rebels enter this final regular season game with identical 4-7 overall records. UNLV is 3-4 in Mountain West play while the Pack is 2-5. The winner will finish third in the West Division of the Mountain West.
“It doesn’t matter if they were 11-0 and we were 0-11 or if they were 0-11 and we were 11-0,” Corbett said. “You are going to get the best out of both teams in this game, no matter what their records are. If this game doesn’t get you going there’s something wrong.”
“There’s going to be fireworks on Saturday,” Kreitler said.
“Both teams will have fire in their bellies,” Sanchez said.
Both teams also are pulling out all of the emotional stops for this game.
“Last year when we were painting it red, I noticed that they (Wolf Pack) engraved the words, ‘University of Notta Lot of Victories’ (UNLV),” Sanchez said. “I took a picture of that and I saved it all year until this week when I showed it to our boys on Sunday. That shows where this rivalry is at.”
Wolf Pack offensive line coach Jonathan Himebauch, who coached the Rebels offensive line in 2000 and 2001 as a graduate assistant and in 2004 as an assistant coach, also had a little motivation for the Wolf Pack this season.
“The first time we met him last spring he got us all together at the 50-yard line at Mackay and gave us all a can of blue spray paint with a picture of the cannon on it,” Corbett said. “He told us he is undefeated in this game, that he has victories in this game on the other side. Well, we want to keep that going for him now that he’s with us.”
The Rebels are led by running backs Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams and quarterback Kurt Palendech. Williams has 715 yards and three touchdowns while Thomas has 632 yards and eight scores. Palendech, the Rebels’ third starting quarterback this season after Johnny Stanton and Dalton Sneed, has passed for 526 yards and five touchdowns and run for 261 yards (7.7 a carry).
“We feel very comfortable with (Palendech’s) intellect running our offense,” said Sanchez, who won six state titles in six years as Bishop Gorman’s head coach from 2009-14. “He’s the right guys for us right now.”
Palendech has started the last two games. He was 20-of-32 for 252 yards and three touchdowns against Wyoming in his first start on Nov. 12 but was just 10-of-20 for 113 yards and one score against Boise State last week. He did, however, run for 64 yards and two touchdowns against Boise.
“He’s a capable thrower,” Polian said of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Palendech. “But he’s dynamic with his feet. He’s absolutely a running threat.”
Palendech had a 12-yard touchdown run for the Rebels last year against the Pack.
“They want to run it first,” Polian said. “The strength of their offense is their offensive line.”
The Rebels are fourth in the Mountain West and 15th in the nation with 247 rushing yards a game. The Wolf Pack defense allows 309 rushing yards a game.
“This is like defending New Mexico,” Polian said. “We are going to have to tackle.”
The Rebels have become more one dimensional on offense ever since wide receiver Devante Boyd suffered a season-ending broke arm two games ago in a wild 69-66 triple-overtime victory over Wyoming. UNLV passed for just 113 yards without Boyd last week in a 42-25 loss to Boise State.
“The loss of Boyd hurts (UNLV) a lot,” Polian said. “It stings. The last few games he played, every time they needed a big play they went to him.”
The Wolf Pack is led on offense by running back James Butler (1,140 yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Ty Gangi (1,108 yards, seven touchdowns). UNLV is led on defense by linebacker Tau Lotulelei, who has 107 tackles (15.5 for a loss), and linebacker Ryan McAleenan, who has 79 tackles and returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown last season against the Wolf Pack.
“These are two football teams that rely on running the football,” Sanchez said. “We just have to do a better job of defending the passing game than they do.”
“I have no doubt that they (UNLV) will be dedicated to stopping the run,” Polian said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that we will have to make some plays in the passing game.”
This game is the likely end of the season for both teams unless the NCAA invites some five-win teams for bowls like it did a year ago when it took Minnesota, Nebraska and the Mountain West’s San Jose State.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Reed said. “We have to win this game for that (a bowl with five wins) to even be a possibility so all I’m thinking about is this game.”
“This is big,” Sanchez said. “It’s on our walls. ‘Beat Reno.’”
The fact that Sanchez and the Rebels continue to refer to the Wolf Pack as “Reno” adds to the rivalry. The UNLV athletic department also continues to refer to the Wolf Pack as either “UNR” or “Nevada, Reno” while the Wolf Pack prefers to be called the University of Nevada.
“I have no control over what other people call us,” Polian said. “They can say what they want. We are the University of Nevada and we have been here forever.”
“We are Nevada,” said Wolf Pack wide receiver Hasaan Henderson, who graduated from Las Vegas High. “We are Battle Born and Battle Ready. When you hear people say UNR, deep down it feels like you are being disrespected. But people up here know we are Nevada.”
“We have the more passionate community,” Rufus said.
“We’re the football school,” Reed said.