RENO — Coach Bobby Hauck ran down the sideline shaking his right fist after running back Tim Cornett bowled his way into the end zone.
And that was only the beginning.
UNLV players danced on the Mackay Stadium turf as the clocked ticked down Saturday night, and they later returned en masse to take a knee around the UNR logo for the post-game prayer.
The Rebels had plenty to celebrate and plenty to be thankful for, ending eight long years of misery against their upstate neighbors with a 27-22 victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 32,521.
UNLV brought the Fremont Cannon back to Las Vegas after the game, and the trophy soon will be painted red. This is the first time since 1979 the Rebels won the cannon back from UNR on its field.
“We’ve been talking about this cannon for years,” junior wide receiver Devante Davis said. “For those seniors in that locker room, we did it for them, for Coach Hauck, for all the coaches. Your goal from the start of the season was to get that cannon, and to come up here and get it feels great.”
So many different elements went into the victory for UNLV (5-3, 3-1 Mountain West).
Senior Caleb Herring returned to the scene of one of his worst games, suffering through a 1-for-14, 8-yard effort two years ago. This time, he completed 29 of 42 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
Cornett was listed as doubtful with a right leg injury, and he was on crutches as recently as Tuesday. But he not only played, but started, rushing for 122 yards on 26 carries. He said he never doubted he would play.
“It hurt bad, but I guess I know my body enough, what I can push through and what I can’t,” Cornett said.
Davis caught eight passes for 121 yards and two scores, including a key touchdown late in the game.
And the Rebels’ defense made key plays, limiting the Wolf Pack (3-5, 2-3) to 162 yards in the second half after giving up 325 in the first half. UNR also scored just once in the second half, though the 9-yard touchdown pass from Cody Fajardo to Aaron Bradley with 3:25 remaining set up a dramatic ending.
“They’re well-coached, they play hard, and they make you earn everything you get,” Hauck said.
The Rebels had several missed opportunities to take more control early in the game, but made sure to capitalize in the fourth quarter.
Cornett bulled through several Wolf Pack defenders on a 9-yard run with 11:46 remaining to put UNLV ahead 21-16, sending Hauck down the sideline shaking his fist.
Then later in the quarter, the Rebels decided not to play safe deep in UNR territory. Herring found Davis, with UNR cornerback Markus Smith draped all over him, for the 11-yard touchdown with 5:54 remaining that put the Rebels up by two possessions. They failed on the 2-point conversion attempt, but the 27-16 cushion was huge.
“In these type of games, it’s a rivalry game with all this emotion, anything can happen,” Herring said. “We didn’t want to just sit on the lead. We wanted to be aggressive.”
Then after allowing UNR to get back to within five points, the Rebels closed out the game. Cornerback Tajh Hasson broke up a fourth-down pass with 1:25 left to end any questions.
“Coaches prepared me well,” Hasson said. “I knew what was coming, and I read it and it came.”
Then the Rebels knew they could celebrate.
“I’m going to cry tonight,” Cornett said.
Now the Rebels, who play San Jose State on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, are within one victory of bowl eligibility. They haven’t made the postseason since 2000, which also served as the beginning of a five-year winning streak over the Wolf Pack.
The cannon was painted red during those years. Now it will get a fresh coat, but when was uncertain.
Davis guessed Monday, but the timing was a secondary matter.
“It will be painted for sure,” Davis said.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.