End 23-game road losing streak. Check.
First four-game winning streak since 2000. Check
End dreaded eight-year losing streak in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon. Check.
First bowl game since 2000. Ummm …
Bobby Hauck’s UNLV Rebels will have to wait at least another week to check off that last goal after losing to San Jose State, 34-24, before a Homecoming crowd of only 15,837 at sunny Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Freshman Jarrod Lawson rushed for 187 yards on 28 carries and scored a touchdown and David Fales passed for 150 yards and a touchdown as the Spartans (5-3, 4-1 Mountain West) jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead and held off a late UNLV rally to win their fourth straight game.
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San Jose State, which came into the game ranked 11th in the Mountain West and 103rd nationally in rush offense with an average of 125.4 yards per game, rolled up 312 yards on the ground and 492 total yards as UNLV (5-4, 3-2), which appeared flat for most of the first half, struggled with missed tackles, dropped passes and interceptions, and assignment errors.
Call it a case of Cannon Fever. A team that had put a whole year – make that years – into trying to snap its losing streak with the Wolf Pack seemed to still be celebrating the big win right up to kickoff. In fact, the Fremont Cannon, painted Rebel Red during a special ceremony on Monday, was parked right outside the UNLV locker room for all to see and to pose pictures with.
“Obviously I’m not very happy with the way we played today and that starts with me,” a visibly upset Hauck said during his post-game press conference. “I didn’t have them ready to play, we didn’t play well and we have to do better next week.”
“We just came out kind of dead,” senior running back Tim Cornett, who finished with a season-low 24 yards on 12 carries, said. “That’s on me, being a senior and a big part of the team. That’s on me to get everybody riled up.”
UNLV dropped out of a tie for second place with the Spartans and dropped all the way down to fourth in the West Division with the loss. The Rebels still have three more chances to obtain the coveted sixth win needed for bowl eligibility. But none of the three remaining games – at home against a physical and strong defensive Utah State (5-4) squad next week, at always pesky Air Force (2-7) on a short week on Nov. 21, and at home against improving San Diego State (4-4) on Nov. 30 – figures to be easy.
To their credit, the Rebels put the brutal first half behind them and battled back in the second half, closing to within a touchdown twice, the final time on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Herring (26-of-49, 265 yards, 2 TDs, 2 Ints.) to freshman wide receiver Maika Mataele with eight minutes left. But San Jose State answered with a game-clinching 44-yard field goal by Austin Lopez to make it 34-24 with 2:56 to go, chewing up over five minutes on a nine-play drive that saw the Rebels hold onto all three of their timeouts as the clocked ticked away.
The Rebels then drove to the San Jose State 27 where they were forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal attempt by Nolan Kohorst with 54 seconds left and also hope they could also recover an onside kick. But the normally reliable Kohorst missed and the Spartans ran out the clock.
Despite the nice second half comeback, there was a feeling afterward that the Rebels let this one get away thanks to their lethargic start.
“Of course,” senior defensive tackle Tyler Gaston. “No disrespect to their team, it’s just all on us I believe. They’re a good team but I really feel like we beat ourselves today. And this kind of hurts a little bit more knowing that we have so much at stake.”