After quarterbacking Citrus Hill High School in Perris, Calif., to back-to-back 14-0 seasons and CIF titles, Caleb Herring had a big decision to make.
Should he honor an early verbal commitment he made to then UNLV coach Mike Sanford to play for the Rebels? Or should he renege and switch to a coach named Chip Kelly who was recruiting him hard for Oregon?
Herring decided to be a man of his word.
After coming off the bench to complete 24-of-28 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns and help rally the Rebels (1-2) from a 21-point deficit and a crucial 31-21 victory over Central Michigan Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, the 6-foot-3 senior was asked if he ever second-guessed himself for that decision.
“I mean, in a playful manner, yeah,” Herring said with a smile. “I’ll look and see those uniforms (Oregon is) wearing and just laugh and (think) I could have worn those. But no, there’s no regret. I am where I am for a reason. I’ve just got to do my best while I’m here.”
It’s been a long road for Herring who redshirted during Sanford’s final season and was eventually moved to wide receiver before last season by the man who replaced Sanford, Bobby Hauck.
Considering the position the Rebels were in during the first half Saturday night – trailing Central Michigan 21-0 midway through the second quarter in a positively dreadful performance — it’s quite possible that Herring not only helped save UNLV’s season but also the job of the man who had him switch positions several times during his career.
All Herring did was shatter the school single-game record for completion percentage (.808) set by a fellow named Randall Cunningham (21-of-26) against Idaho State in 1984. Herring, who also tied his career-high with three touchdown passes, now comes in at .857 now after his 24-of-28 performance.
He also can say he helped engineer a school record-tying 21-point comeback, matching UNLV’s mark set in 1976 in a 63-42 victory against mighty Nebraska-Omaha.
“When Caleb is on target and accurate and seeing things, he does a really nice job,” Hauck said. “What he did tonight is not easy to do so I am really proud of him. It was a good job by him.”
UNLV was trailing, 7-0, late in the first quarter when Hauck decided to yank sophomore starter Nick Sherry after two series that featured an interception and a three-and-out.
But Central Michigan quickly upped the lead to 21-0 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Saylor Lavallii and a 20-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Cooper Rush to wide receiver Titus Davis.
Then came the record-tying turnaround.
Just before halftime Herring connected with Devante Davis over the middle for a 50-yard pass play that seemed to finally ignite a lethargic Rebel offense that had managed just two first downs. Three plays later, Herring hit Davis again in the right corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown to cut the Chippewa lead to 21-7 at halftime.
Herring and Davis teamed up two more times for touchdowns, including a 12-yarder with 6:40 remaining for the game’s final score, capping a streak of 31 unanswered points by the Rebels.
Davis finished with seven receptions for 140 yards and three touchdowns while Tim Cornett rushed for a game-high 94 yards on 22 carries including a 12-yard touchdown run. And the Rebel defense also stepped up after halftime, holding the Chips to just 105 total yards while also coming up with a pair of interceptions by safeties Peni Vea and Frank Crawford.
Hauck refused to name his starting quarterback for next week’s game against Western Illinois (2-1) afterward although it would seem like a no-brainer.
“We’ll watch the film and figure out what we’re going to do,” Hauck said. “Both (Herring) and Nick were really on the money this week in practice. I think both of them excel when there’s great competition to get on the field, so we’ll take a look at it and see.”
Herring was asked if he ever imagined being back in the quarterbacking limelight again after being switched to wide receiver prior to his junior season to make room for Sherry.
“When I moved to wide receiver there was a moment where I thought I wouldn’t be back playing quarterback,” he said. “Once I got switched back in the spring this year it was always a possibility. … You never know what’s going to happen. You just do the best with the hand your dealt and make the best of your opportunities, and that’s what I’m doing here.”
REBEL NOTES:It’s possible that starting cornerback Sidney Hodge may be done playing this season because of a shoulder injury. Hauck said he would address the matter at his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon. Hodge did not play in Saturday’s win. … The announced crowd was only 10,981. … Cornett now has 2,685 career rushing yards which moved him past the late Kirk Jones (2,656 from 1983-86) into third place in school history. … Davis became the ninth Rebel to have three receiving touchdowns in a game and the first since Michael Johnson had three against New Mexico in 2010.
Caleb Herring photo by Barry Wong