UNLV was done, the football season was quickly vanishing, the Rebels getting completely outclassed by Central Michigan.
But then a quarterback who knows something about perseverance began to lead them back.
Senior Caleb Herring came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes, guiding the Rebels on a remarkable comeback from a 21-0 deficit to a 31-21 victory on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
It tied the largest comeback in UNLV history. The Rebels rallied from 35-14 down to Nebraska-Omaha in 1976 to win 63-42.
The victory broke a five-game losing streak for the Rebels (1-2) and began what should be a winnable four-game stretch for UNLV, which next hosts Western Illinois on Saturday.
Herring was tremendous in completing 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Devante Davis was on the receiving end of all three TD passes, two of them on difficult catches, and he finished with seven receptions for 140 yards.
“I saw he (Devante Davis) was in a zone, that he was making plays. I just decided to feed him,” Herring said.
Tim Cornett rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. UNLV outgained Central Michigan 411-378, including 342-110 over the final 37 minutes.
“Our defense was special after a slow start. We talked all week long about starting fast, and obviously that shows you what pregame talks by coaches are worth,” said Rebels coach Bobby Hauck, adding that at halfime he said, “Let’s go win this thing. All that Knute Rockne crap, it’s overrated. (We) made some adjustments and said, ‘Let’s go win it.’ ”
Central Michigan (1-2) appeared to have the game won, taking a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter and dominating play on both sides of the ball. The Chippewas outgained UNLV 132-10 in the first quarter alone and didn’t allow the Rebels a first down until 3½ minutes into the second period.
Herring was responsible for that first down, completing a 13-yard pass to Anthony Williams. UNLV turned to Herring after two failed series from starting quarterback Nick Sherry.
Herring knows something about going to the bench.
He was the starter two years ago before playing his way out of the job. He then lost it for good before last season to Sherry, who went on to a strong freshman season before struggling late.
Those struggles carried over to this season, and Hauck made it clear Monday the position was up for grabs.
Sherry retained the starting job for this game, but with Herring’s strong performance, the Rebels appear to have found a new leader.
He began the Rebels’ rally with a 50-yard pass to Davis late in the second quarter, setting up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 54 seconds left to give UNLV life.
The re-energized Rebels rode the momentum to another touchdown early in the third quarter when Tim Cornett rushed 12 yards to bring them to within 21-14.
UNLV finally caught Central Michigan when Herring threw a 42-yard pass that Davis juggled but hauled in at the back of the end zone with 2:58 left in the third.
Then the Rebels took the lead 1:19 into the fourth quarter on Nolan Kohorst’s 34-yard field goal and extended the advantage to 31-21 with 6:40 remaining on Herring’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Davis.
Safety Frank Crawford made an interception with 3:55 to seal the victory. Peni Vea also intercepted a pass to turn away a scoring threat, and the Rebels finished with three sacks.