Eugene Tanner / AP
Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Coming off an ugly 26-7 road loss, the Rebels are heading to Hawaii (3-3, 2-0), where UNLV hasn't won since 2000. Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and reporters Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss the Rebels' likelihood of winning their remaining toss-up games like this one.
The Rebels had won, and then suddenly they didn’t, a bewildering turn of events that nearly two years later still sticks with the players who experienced first-hand that 37-35 loss in UNLV’s last trip to Hawaii.
“Man, that last play was crazy,” said senior linebacker Tau Lotulelei. “I remember we went into the locker room, and it looked like everybody got punched in their gut 100 times, we were just down.
“It’s one game that I don’t like thinking about.”
UNLV (2-4, 1-1) kicks off at 9:07 p.m. tonight against Hawaii (3-3, 2-0) in Aloha Stadium, where the Rebels haven’t won since 2000. The game will air locally on KVVU-Fox 5.
A victory back on Nov. 22, 2014, probably wouldn’t have saved then-coach Bobby Hauck’s job, but the fact that he was fired a few days later goes to show how impactful the outcome was to the program’s recent history. UNLV fought through offensive struggles and injuries to take a 35-31 lead with only 15 seconds left, and then everything started to unravel.
After scoring the go-ahead touchdown, at least two Rebels left the bench to run to the end zone and celebrate the score. Bizarrely, they were penalized individually instead of for one infraction, and the penalty yards helped set up Hawaii at UNLV’s 42-yard line.
The Rainbow Warriors completed one pass to the 20-yard line with five seconds left, and then tossed a long incompletion to seemingly end the game. But, due either to some hometown cooking or the inherent problems with not displaying tenths of a second in football, there was still one second on the clock.
Hawaii took advantage, scoring a touchdown that set off a wild celebration with fans and nearly the entire team running onto the field. However, no penalty flags were thrown and the Rainbow Warriors were able to kneel down the extra-point attempt to end the game.
“Everybody kind of had a sick feeling in their stomach to have it end that way,” said senior fullback Marc Philippi. “It’s one that you let get out of your grasp and they came in and took it from you at the last second.”
Unlike that game, which was at the end of another disappointing two-win season, there’s still a lot on the line for UNLV. If you concede that the Nov. 18 trip to undefeated Boise State is a loss, five of the Rebels’ six remaining games are very winnable.
Hawaii is an 8-point favorite but the Rebels will certainly have their opportunities in this one. Opponents average 5.7 yards per carry against Hawaii’s defense — UNLV’s offensive average is 5.8 per carry — and the Rainbow Warriors have the worst turnover margin in the league (-0.83).
But considering the Rebels’ deficiencies, this outcome will likely be decided by whether or not they can handle their own business. Coach Tony Sanchez said he plans to use backup quarterback Kurt Palandech for at least a couple series to take some responsibility off redshirt freshman Dalton Sneed's shoulders, and redshirt freshman defensive back Jericho Flowers is now on offense trying to help out a depleted receiving corps that’s without three of its top four performers.
Coming off an ugly offensive performance that saw the Rebels pass for only nine yards, it makes sense to address both of those positions. Yet realistically they still need the run game to have a big performance to give the passing game a chance.
“Being as limited as we are in the receiving corps and having quarterbacks we’re trying to bring along, you have to be able to run the football,” Sanchez said. “When they force you to throw it, it’s a bad situation.”
The Rebels are familiar with bad situations at Hawaii. They’re just hoping this isn’t another one to add to the list.