Herring fittingly rises to occasion


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

This was most appropriate: That when it came time to produce a drive that would win a football game and finally terminate a road losing streak that had become stuff of (negative) lore around the UNLV program, Caleb Herring was the one to lead it.

That when it came time for the roller-coaster of emotion the Rebels had been aboard for nearly 50 minutes, a fifth-year senior whose college career has been more up and down than any ride Magic Mountain offers proved to be the difference.

That when the moment arrived for UNLV not to quit, a kid who nearly did rose to the occasion like few Rebels have in decades.

“I almost gave up on football, almost called it in,” Herring said. “But my faith kept me in it, kept me strong, kept me focused, kept me fighting.

“And now, here we are.”

Here is this: UNLV beat New Mexico 56-42 at University Stadium on Saturday evening and in the process ended a 23-game road losing streak. In the most important game of coach Bobby Hauck’s four-year tenure, the Rebels won a Mountain West opener on an evening they surrendered 400 yards rushing in the first half.

None of it mattered. Not how crazy the scoring was. Not how easily the Lobos ran the ball those first 30 minutes. Not that it was 42-42 entering the fourth quarter.

His shirt soaked from a bath of celebratory water supplied by his players and a game ball clutched in his hand afterward, Hauck wore the smile of a man who understood the victory’s significance.

Losing is a hard thing. It wears on those who experience it often.

Herring knows the feeling.

He is one of three remaining recruits signed by former coach Mike Sanford, a young man who arrived at UNLV a quarterback, played in 20 games at the position and started nine of those from 2010 to 2012, lost the job to Nick Sherry before last season and was switched to wide receiver.

Doubt didn’t just creep into Herring.

It engulfed him.

“A lot of ups and downs during my time here,” Herring said. “Going to a position last year that I never played before, it was easy to think about just walking away. But the guys in our locker room, the coaches, they wouldn’t let me. They believed in me, encouraged me.

“My family is also very strong in our faith. They always believed there was a reason I came to UNLV, a reason above me, a reason above all of us. They believed that when Coach Sanford left and Coach Hauck came in. They kept telling me to believe also.

“I’m sure glad I stayed with it.”

He replaced the sophomore Sherry on the third drive against Central Michigan on Sept. 14 and now has led the Rebels to three straight wins, a first for UNLV since 2003.

On Saturday, Herring completed 24 of 34 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns, the final one coming on third-and-goal from the 7 with 4:46 remaining.

It was the culmination of a 15-play, 80-yard drive that amassed 6:55 of the clock, a drive that the Rebels desperately needed for so many reasons. Not just to win but to do so on the road for the first time since October 2009, to prove something positive could happen to a program that has known negative for so long.

It wasn’t just appropriate Herring directed it.

It was fitting, needed, a terrific moment for the sort of kid you want good things to find.

If you can’t root for Caleb Herring, you don’t accept what little innocense remains in college athletics.

“He’s an awesome guy, a great team guy that will do whatever it takes,” Hauck said. “Right now, that’s playing quarterback really well. Obviously, as a coach, you’re proud of him. He’s the guy you want in your locker room.”

Hauck has said the quarterback position will be competed between Herring and Sherry for the remainder of the season, knowing that at this point if he starts anyone but Herring, there is a good chance he would be run out of town and back to Montana before the pregame coin flip lands on turf.

But perhaps a bit of mystery is the best route to travel for all involved, especially a player whose career has been anything but a steady excursion.

“The competition between Nick and I is good for our entire team, for it to know we have two guys who can do the job,” Herring said. “It only makes Nick and I better players.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want anything handed to me.”

It never has been, which makes this moment, this win, this game-winning drive led by this particular quarterback, all the sweeter for UNLV.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.