UNR rivalry awaits with teams headed in different directions

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Beyond the Sun

Next game

  • Opponent: UNR
  • Date: Sept. 27, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
  • Where: Las Vegas

Several UNLV football players tried to make it seem like Saturday night’s outcome wouldn’t have much bearing on next week’s game against UNR.

But they all sounded enthused about being 3-1, instead of 2-2, for the annual Silver State rivalry clash against the Wolf Pack.

In a second consecutive overtime victory -- a 34-31 thriller over Iowa State at Sam Boyd Stadium -- the Rebels produced a watershed effort.

After four consecutive two-win seasons, the past three under coach Mike Sanford, they ensured being able to use more than their thumbs to count this season’s victories.

“It’s getting a little crazy,” said senior receiver Casey Flair, who caught a game-high seven passes for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Cyclones. “It’s fun. We broke the two-win curse. It’s exciting, but we have to keep working.”

The Rebels said Saturday night was about following last weekend’s heroics against a Pac-10 program, Arizona State, with success against a Big 12 team, another league considered to be among the nation’s elite.

“We wanted to back up our win last week at ASU,” said UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton. “We couldn’t overlook this game for Reno. We needed to make a statement and win this game against a Big 12 opponent.

“I don’t know how losing this game would have affected us, just because it’s Reno. I don’t think there’s anything at all that could get this team away from looking forward to beating Reno and getting the cannon.”

The Wolf Pack claimed the Fremont Cannon, which goes to the victor in the rivalry, three years ago and hasn’t given it back to UNLV.

That included a 31-3 drubbing of the Rebels at Sam Boyd two years ago, sandwiched by UNR wins in Reno.

Last season, the Wolf Pack won, 27-20, on a 43-yard touchdown connection from Nick Graziano to Kyle Sammons with 27 seconds left.

“We definitely felt like we could have made more plays than we did,” Clayton said. “We were in a close situation and we couldn’t come through. We definitely don’t want that to happen this year.”

The past two weeks, they haven’t.

Phillip Payne, the freshman phenom receiver, talked about the cannon like a long-lost friend.

“It hasn’t been here for a while,” he said. “We just know they’ll come prepared. I don’t know what they did this week, I just suspect they won. It’s a real big game, trying to get the cannon back.”

Actually, UNR didn’t play this weekend and probably needed the rest. It is 1-2 after back-to-back thumpings by Texas Tech at home and Missouri on the road.

The Tigers rubbed it in, 69-17.

So the 34th game of the UNLV-UNR rivalry next week will pit two teams going in opposite directions, and the Rebels get the advantage of playing at Sam Boyd.

“We’ve got two wins in a row and it’s in our house,” Flair said. “We have some advantages, but we have to take advantage of those. We had some advantages tonight and we let some of them slip away. It made the game really close.

“We have to take advantage of our opportunities.”

Senior defensive lineman Jacob Hales, from Las Vegas High, grew up watching the series, had a good idea of what awaits the Rebels and knew that UNR was off this weekend.

“They’re preparing,” Hales said. “They’ll be tough. We just have to be prepared. Hopefully, our game plan is better than theirs.”

UNLV athletic director Mike Hamrick strolled down to the field after Saturday’s game among throngs of fans who yelped about what they had just witnessed.

“Hopefully, it’s good for the city and good for the Rebels,” Hamrick said before addressing the UNR game. “It’ll be a tough one. But, hey, they’re all tough.”

Clayton expects a rabid crowd.

“I absolutely expect this place to be packed, full and rowdy,” he said. “It’s gonna be a huge game.”

Pressed, he was asked what he saw in his crystal ball.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Clayton said. “I just look forward to us winning.”

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