Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV football team wouldn’t have won this game the past three seasons.
Rather, they would have gone through the motions after falling behind by three touchdowns, essentially throwing in the towel on the game and the season.
Saturday, they showed they have a little fight, closing with 31 unanswered points against Central Michigan in a 31-21 victory.
The Rebels trailed 21-0 midway through the second quarter, ever so close to falling to 0-3 on the season. They were as awful as advertised in the first quarter, failing to pick up a first down and gaining just 10 yards.
When they finally managed a first down 19 minutes into the game, fans sarcastically cheered. By the end of the night, those fans — just 10,981 attended because the game conflicted with a Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight, or because after two ugly defeats to open the season, they had already given up on the season — were singing the fight song to celebrate the unlikely win. It tied the largest comeback in school history.
Bobby Hauck, who won for just the seventh time in his four-year UNLV coaching tenure, deserves credit for keeping his team together. The players didn’t quit on their coach, rallying to not only save the season, but Hauck’s immediate fate.
Hauck wouldn’t have been fired until UNLV hires an athletic director in the upcoming weeks, but his future at UNLV after a loss against Central Michigan would have been grim. It would have been time to give someone else a try at transforming UNLV football into a winner — or anything besides a perennial two-win team.
While Saturday was just one victory, and Hauck is still squarely on the proverbial hot seat, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel — especially when considering how UNLV played in the second half.
It was the best half of football in Hauck’s tenure.
The defense surrendered just 105 yards in the second half and held Central Michigan scoreless in the final 37 minutes. They had two interceptions and three sacks.
The offense rallied behind backup quarterback Caleb Herring, who completed 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns after entering midway through the first half for an ineffective Nick Sherry.
With each positive play, you could sense the Rebels’ season starting to change.
Whether it was one of Devante Davis’ three touchdown catches, a 12-yard touchdown run by Tim Cornett to cut the deficit to seven points early in the third quarter or a redzone interception by Peni Vea to halt a Central Michigan drive, the Rebels found their mojo.
Well, at least for one night.
They should have plenty of momentum for the upcoming weeks, which includes winnable games in each of their next three contests — next week at home against Western Illinois, Sept. 28 at New Mexico and Oct. 12 vs. Hawaii.
It’s not too far-fetched to predict the Rebels will have a 4-2 record after Oct. 12, just two wins away from becoming bowl eligible. (OK, that’s a little optimistic after one win, but the schedule clearly plays in UNLV’s favor.)
The Rebels were expected to lose the season opener at Minnesota and the home opener last week against Arizona. However, both defeats became complete embarrassments, especially with miscues on special teams that were a direct result of poor coaching.
When the Rebels started slowly Saturday, some were writing Bobby Hauck’s obituary as the UNLV coach. Hauck is still on life support, but his team showed some fight in rallying for the win.
It could make for an interesting remainder of the season.