DALLAS – A season that contained many highs ended with a big thud for the UNLV football team Wednesday in the Heart of Texas Bowl here.
In a year the Rebels (7-6) reclaimed the coveted Fremont Cannon for the first time since 2004 and won five Mountain West conference games for the first time ever, UNLV also suffered the first bowl defeat in school history, a 36-14 trouncing by North Texas before a crowd of 33,380 at the Cotton Bowl.
Quarterback Derek Thompson shook off an early knee injury to pass for 256 yards and two touchdowns and wide receiver Brelan Chancellor caught six passes for 74 yards and also rushed for two touchdowns to lead the Mean Green (9-4).
UNLV, which went 95 yards on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Herring to wide receiver Marcus Sullivan, managed just 167 total yards over the final 52 minutes.
The Rebel drive chart after the opening TD drive pretty much summed it up: fumble (punt by Keith Whitely), punt, punt, punt, missed FG, punt, punt, punt, passing touchdown, interception, downs.
The second touchdown, a 28-yarder from Herring to Jerry Rice Jr. with 4:56 left in the game, came after North Texas had scored 28 unanswered points and taken control of the game.
The Mean Green, which converted 9-of-11 third downs in the second half, then buried any thoughts of a miracle UNLV comeback with another touchdown, a 15-yarder by Chancellor on a reverse with 2:24 to go, and a two-point conversion.
North Texas finished with 397 total yards and controlled the ball for over 35 minutes. Herring, who began the game 8-for-8 for 75 yards and a touchdown, finished 22-of-41 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and was sacked a season-high five times.
Despite the loss, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck and Herring took pride in a turnaround season that produced the team’s first bowl trip since 2000.
“This group I’m really proud of,” Hauck said. “It was fun for me watching them go out there and compete, celebrating with them. As I told them, it’s tough not to look at the last three hours, but as we move forward into next week, I’m hoping we focus on what we’ve accomplished, and that’s a lot.”
“As a senior, I guess it’s about the legacy,” said Herring, who broke the school career record for lowest interception percentage (14 in 708 attempts, .0197) previously held by Randall Cunningham. “I think there’s something that went into this year and that’s gone into this program that is going to go for a long time because it is good to have pride in something.”
NOTES: Wide receiver Devante Davis set a school record for receptions in a bowl game with 10 catches for 96 yards. … Herring’s completion percentage of 62.9 broke the school single-season mark of 62.4 set by Cunningham in 1984. … Senior running back Tim Cornett finished with just 33 yards on 12 carries and ended his career with 3,733 rushing yards, a school record and the second most in Mountain West history.
MyLVsports.com staff report