Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Mike Horsey caught himself halfway through the answer. A few minutes after making UNLV coach Bobby Hauck beam with pride by talking about defending “our” Fremont Cannon, the senior safety from Baltimore nearly mentioned the team who shall not be named, the one looking to reclaim that cannon and apply a fresh paint job.
“Now we have Re-, the guys from up North,” Horsey said.
It’s not easy to get over an ending like what happened last Saturday in Hawaii, but with the only game everyone admits matters more than the rest on tap, the Rebels (2-10, 1-6) are in better position to turn the page than any other week of the year. UNR (6-5, 3-4) comes to Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night for a 7:32 kickoff on ESPNU looking to take the cannon back to Reno after an embarrassing loss to Fresno State ended the Wolf Pack’s shot at winning the West Division.
Now UNR is in the same position UNLV has occupied since loss No. 7 on Nov. 1. This is the only thing left that matters.
That said, the Rebels still would have liked to come into this game off a win they felt they deserved. To recap: UNLV scored a seemingly game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left that drew two penalty flags because receiver Marcus Sullivan and running back George Nahfahu ran from the designated sideline area to jump in the celebration in the corner of the end zone without their helmets on.
The players weren’t on the field but, by the letter of the law, it’s a penalty. It’s almost never called, and, most frustratingly, a flag never came out when nearly the entire Hawaii team stormed the field before the final extra-point attempt. The Rainbow Warriors were able to set up their own game-winning touchdown thanks to great field position off the Rebels’ kickoff at the 10-yard line and some hometown help from the clock operator who left one second remaining when perhaps it should have read zeroes.
“I feel most sick for our guys,” Hauck said Monday during his weekly press conference at the Lied Athletic Complex. “I’ve never been that angry after a game. It still pains me to talk about it.”
If it were any other Mountain West game coming up there would be concern about a hangover. But not with this one.
It’s the first time since 1977 that the Battle for the Fremont Cannon is on the final weekend of the season, exactly where Hauck has wanted it. Despite what transpired in Honolulu, the Rebels should be ready with their best shot, whatever that means in a disappointing season the could end up as Hauck’s fourth two-win year in five seasons.
“We’re already emotionally ready for this game,” said senior receiver Devante Davis.
The Rebels remember that sunny day a little more than a year ago when they rolled the cannon, its wheels still blue, through campus to the student union, where they took turns with a handful of brushes and a can of red paint.
“It wasn’t a pretty red. We were just swiping,” Horsey said.
From there it went in for a real paint job and the heaviest trophy in college football (about 550 pounds) has been a staple around the Lied Athletic Complex and on game days at Sam Boyd ever since. The Rebels have only had it for 13 months after an eight-year residency in Reno, and at the end of another disappointing season the last thing they want is to see it leave town again.
“Everybody on both sides knows this is a big one,” Hauck said.
It’s the one they talk about all year. The one that feels like more than just one if you win it, and that’s why Horsey scoffed when asked if the Rebels were eyeing their prize a little more this week. The answer is they never stopped.
“You look at it every day,” Horsey said. “It’s very big, you can’t miss it.”