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Rivalry victory surest sign of Hauck's progress


RENO

It represents more today for the UNLV football program than a replica of a 19th century Howitzer, more than a 550-pound trophy ever could, more than its $10,000 value.

That the Fremont Cannon will again be painted red is a testament to a team’s fortitude, a symbol to its belief in a head coach and his unending conviction that he was indeed the best choice nearly four years ago to rebuild the Rebels.

It is, more than anything, additional proof that Bobby Hauck’s vision just might ultimately prove the solution to making UNLV relevant within the college football landscape.

Or at least within the Mountain West.

“This is as true as I can say it,” Hauck offered here Saturday evening. “This is for our fans and our kids. I’m relatively new here, although I’m starting to feel old. Our fans have hung with us and they are due to enjoy college football and have fun doing so. A year ago, we couldn’t win two straight games, couldn’t win close games, couldn’t win our rivalry game … We just weren’t quite ready.”

They are now and proved it at Mackay Stadium, beating UNR 27-22 to end an eight-year losing streak in the state’s rivalry game and moving UNLV to within one victory of bowl eligibility with four regular-season games left.

The victory formation had been assumed and the clock had run out and UNLV players basked in the emotion only such a win could create. Hauck and his players took their time returning to a raucous locker room, where the cannon awaited, stopping to greet and embrace and celebrate with UNLV fans.

In the background, a familiar chorus was still being sung by the UNR faithful, one that began before kickoff and continued following their team’s defeat. “(Bleep) the Rebels! (Bleep) the Rebels!”

I wondered at first if they were saying the word “Love.”

Probably not.

“We have been talking about this cannon for years,” UNLV junior wide receiver Devante Davis said. “To get it this time, for our seniors in the locker room, for Coach Hauck, for all the coaches … To get that cannon, especially after you have been working so hard and that always being one of our goals, it feels great.”

It is my wish, that on my death bed, hopefully a time that won’t arrive as soon as many would likely prefer, that the one giving last rites looks to my loved ones and proclaims: “He’s doubtful, but only to the degree Tim Cornett was against UNR in 2013.”

I’m not saying Hauck is paranoid when releasing his team’s injury report, but Richard Nixon just might be alive and well and updating the weekly status of those Rebels nursing bumps and bruises.

Cornett took that doubtful status and rushed 26 times for 122 yards and a touchdown. The program’s all-time leading rusher appeared anything but gimpy and gave UNLV the ground game it needed to complement a superb performance from quarterback Caleb Herring (29 of 42 passing, 335 yards, three TDs).

It wasn’t a perfect game, certainly wasn’t pretty, wasn’t all that exciting until the final 11 minutes or so. It was what we have come to define the Mountain West this season — two flawed teams playing hard and each hoping to be the one that could make the biggest plays.

The Rebels did on both sides of the ball and won, mostly because of this: Just two seasons removed from being defeated 37-0 here, from one of the more embarrassing losses in that eight-game losing streak full of them, UNLV is better than UNR.

Has better players. Has better coaching.

Has a red cannon to prove it.

“It’s nice to finish with your offense on the field in a (victory formation),” Hauck said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be when you win a rivalry game. I love rivalry games. It puts a terrible strain on you, so it’s a big relief when you’re able to get it done.

“Our guys have made the choice to work and believe in what we are teaching and what we are trying to accomplish. When you believe in something before you see the results, that’s called having character.”

The cannon was to be transported to Las Vegas in the team’s equipment truck, and the popular opinion is that it would receive a heavy coat of red paint on Monday. It’s a trophy, the heaviest and most expensive in college football, its history dating to 1970 and the second meeting between the Rebels and Wolf Pack.

For today, however, it’s a symbol of something more for UNLV.

The steps forward become more obvious with each win this season. Hauck’s vision becomes clearer in its purpose.

The quest for six wins and bowl eligibility continues for the Rebels against visiting San Jose State on Saturday.

I’m guessing Cornett will be listed as questionable.

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.