RENO — Senior quarterback Caleb Herring said he didn’t think about his previous trip to Mackay Stadium.
He certainly played like it was a distant memory.
If Herring was a big reason why UNLV lost here two years ago, he was at least as important to the Rebels’ 27-22 victory Saturday over archrival UNR.
Herring completed 29 of 42 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns, putting to shame the numbers he posted in a 37-0 loss in 2011 when he completed 1 of 14 passes for eight yards.
“Caleb is a heck of a player,” wide receiver Devante Davis said. “To come out here and play the way he did shows what type of guy that he is. He’s relentless. He never gives up. He never stops fighting. He leads this team.”
Much of the story of UNLV’s surprising 5-3 record (3-1 in the Mountain West) revolves around the team’s reclamation project at quarterback.
Herring lost his starting job after struggling badly two seasons ago, including the trip to UNR. Then he even lost his position last season, moving to wide receiver.
But he fought back, and when Nick Sherry stumbled early this season, Herring not only reclaimed the starting job, he shined. This game against the Wolf Pack served as the best example of his comeback.
“When we were up here two years ago, he played about as badly as he could play,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “He came out of here beat down mentally and having to make a decision on what he was going to do. To his credit, he chose to go back to work and be with this football team and work to improve.
“As I’ve said this fall, he’s a shining example to young players all over the country for what happens when you do things right and keep working hard. He’s a tremendous success story, and tonight he carried this football team and did a really nice job.”
Herring knew he had to put what happened here out of his mind if he was going to create new, much more positive memories. He helped spark UNLV out of an early funk with a 16-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter between four defenders to Maika Mataele, who made a sensational catch. Late in the quarter, Herring hooked up with Davis for a 44-yard TD pass to give UNLV a 14-13 lead.
Then when the Rebels needed a two-possession advantage in the fourth quarter, Herring tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 5:54 remaining to go in front 27-16.
This isn’t 2011 anymore.
Herring is leading the Rebels to places they haven’t been in years, burying some unpleasant memories along the way.
“It’s very satisfying,” Herring said. “Anytime you get a chance to redeem yourself, it’s definitely something you want to take advantage of. But it’s not the approach I took coming into the game. I just wanted to get the win. Bringing the (Fremont) cannon home is redemption enough.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.