Before the season even started — it probably was a day or two after the Athlon college football preview magazine came out — football people who took a cursory glance at UNLV’s schedule said the Rebels could be 4-2 by now.
They saw a road game at Minnesota and a home game against Arizona to open the season. They saw home games against Central Michigan and Western Illinois, and then an equally winnable game at New Mexico: If the Rebels ever were to win a road game, that was the one.
They saw another home game against Hawaii, which used to be pretty good, when a guy named June (Jones) was its coach and Timothy Kealii’okaaina Awa Chang — remember little Timmy Chang? — was its quarterback.
That was almost 10 years ago.
Hawaii no longer is pretty good. Hawaii is 0-6.
So the football people thought the Rebels could be 4-2.
And a lot of people who don’t read the Athlon preview magazine thought the football people must be nuts because this was UNLV they were talking about.
So after beating Hawaii 39-37 on a 44-yard field goal by Nolan Kohorst on the last play of the game at the little stadium on the outskirts of town Saturday night, the Rebels are 4-2, just like the football people said.
They are barely 4-2.
It couldn’t have been closer.
This is the first time UNLV has won four consecutive regular-season games since 1984, when Randall Cunningham was quarterback. But when Cunningham was quarterback, the Rebels didn’t win games like this.
They won them a lot easier, with a lot less holding of breath at the end.
“We’re a united football team, and we know how to win games,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said in the winner’s locker room after taking 10 minutes to cool off and/or exhale.
It was the third time the Rebels had come from behind to win this season.
The Rebels trailed 17-13 at halftime, mostly because they kept going for it on fourth down and coming up short.
It appeared not settling for one of those field goals would beat them at the end. It appeared going for a 2-point conversion after one of the touchdowns in the second half, and not getting it, would beat them in the end.
“Obviously, an exciting game,” Hauck said. “We felt Hawaii was an awfully talented football team coming in. They did to us what they did a little bit to Fresno State in the fourth quarter.
“Thank goodness we got the win. Games are funny that way. Maybe it didn’t have to be that interesting at the end of the game. Maybe it did. It was a helluva football game.”
With 1:44 to play, it looked like Hawaii would win.
Sean Schroeder, the Hawaii quarterback, threw a 44-yard touchdown strike to Chris Gant between two Rebels, giving the Islanders a 37-36 lead after they had trailed 36-17 early in the fourth quarter.
The little stadium on the outskirts of town became a flat tire. You could almost hear the air come out it.
Then the Rebels scrambled down the field and got into position for Kohorst, and the Green Valley kid swung his right leg through the ball. There was a roar as the clock went to zeros.
The air was back in the little stadium. The air was back in the season.
“It was good to see the Green Valley Flash, who was kicking five minutes from his high school, kick the game winner,” Hauck said of Kohorst, who fittingly was pictured on the cover of the game program.
“Good snap, good hold, great kick. And with the most pressure.”
So now the Rebels head to Fresno State, the best team in the Mountain West, and first place will be at stake.
But one supposes it still is difficult to say how good the Rebels are. Or if that word should even be used to describe them.
Central Michigan was ranked No. 192 in the power ratings coming into Saturday, and Western Illinois was 205, and New Mexico was 148, and Hawaii, despite being 0-5, was 145, probably because it opened the season against a couple of Pac-12 teams.
UNLV was 147.
But now the Rebels are 4-2, just like the football people said. With the Mountain West being down, a winning record (!) and a bowl game (!!) are not out of the question.
Then when next year’s Athlon college football preview magazine hits newsstands, it won’t say the Rebels blew a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter against a winless Hawaii team they should have beaten easily.
It won’t say they should have kicked those field goals instead of going for it, won’t say one of the Rebels defensive backs should have broken up that Hawaii pass along the sidelines with 1:44 to go, won’t say the Rebels almost lost despite gaining 579 yards.
It will only say they are coming off a pretty nice season. Way nicer than anybody expected.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski