Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 | 6:46 p.m.
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The fans who attended UNLV's final home game found a fitting way to sum up the 2012 season.
There was a big downer in the game against Wyoming (Wyoming sophomore quarterback Brett Smith threw for 347 yards in the first half) followed a major positive (a great second half that saw UNLV's defense shut down the same prolific offense).
But alas, like nine other games this season, the Rebels found themselves on the short end.
"We were almost there, but everyone is sick of that," said UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, visibly frustrated at a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys, the latest chapter to the up-and-down tale of the 2012 Rebels.
The Rebels (2-10, 2-5 Mountain West) wrapped up their home schedule — one that looked oh-so-promising at the start of the season — with two wins and five losses.
There were plenty of long faces that walked out of the UNLV locker room for the last time this season, but running back Bradley Randle wasn't as downtrodden as the rest of his Rebel brethren.
There's one more game to play, he said, and one last chance to eclipse last year's win total (2). He's obviously ignoring the road woes UNLV has had (0-19), but it's not in his DNA to reflect on the negatives too long, especially with a business-first trip to Hawaii next Saturday.
"It's going to be a beautiful game at a beautiful stadium," said Randle, who rushed for a team-high 76 yards on 13 carries. "We've still got one more, which is a beautiful thing. ... We have to send out our seniors with a big smiling face up in Hawaii."
Of course, like many of UNLV's games this season, there were plenty of positives, such as the 426 yards of offense (244 coming in the second half), the first-ever blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and a career-best effort from former walk-on Trey Mays (five catches, 62 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown catch from a tipped pass).
But UNLV will look back at the Wyoming loss and wonder: "What if quarterback Caleb Herring didn't fumble at the Wyoming 1-yard line off of that fake field goal?"
For once, a fake field goal worked in UNLV's favor, at least on first glance.
The Rebels looked like they were going to attempt a 42-yard field goal attempt from the Wyoming 25. Instead, Herring stood up and ran to his right with a clear path to the end zone. The ball came loose, but the play was called a touchdown.
Then came the dreaded "play is under review" call from the official. It was discovered that Herring fumbled at the 1-yard line and the ball squirted through the back of the endzone, giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 20.
"He came over the top. He made a hustle play. ... I assumed I had a free run," Herring said. "I had doubts (that the touchdown would stand). When you have doubts, that's a sign. It's something that happens and then the call was made. You have to live with it."
Randle, keeping with his positive frame of mind, believed Herring scored on the play.
"I still think Caleb had a touchdown, but it wasn't my call," he said.
Other than that, Herring played well in place of injured freshman Nick Sherry. Herring threw for 268 yards on 22-of-36 passing with two touchdowns.
But nothing could take the sting away of another missed opportunity to win a game.
"It's very frustrating. It's even more frustrating that we're a good team," Herring said. "Sometimes, the ball is just falling the other way and things just go another way on any given night."
It's easy to think that had Herring's score counted; the Rebels could have won the game, especially after the defense recovered from an ugly opening 30 minutes.
The UNLV secondary was torched by big play after big play. Smith racked up most of his yards and all of his touchdowns in the first half thanks to six plays of more than 30 yards.
"We didn't play well enough on either side of the ball in the first half," Hauck said.
The UNLV defense did a better job on Smith in the second half, limiting him to 65 yards in the second half.
Outside of a 66-yard scamper by Brandon Miller in the final minute of the game, the Cowboys (4-7, 3-4) couldn't move the ball as efficiently in the final two quarters.
"Did the Wyoming offense come out in the second half? I didn't see them," Wyoming coach Dave Christensen quipped. "We tried to run a little bit more in the second half, and then we got behind the sticks some."