Wolf Pack players settle down, do their individual parts in second half

Football, a game built on fancy slogans and motivational cliches, always comes down to the one thing you don't need to put a tagline on - execution.

UNR got away with executing for only half a game Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Wolf Pack kept the Fremont Cannon for the eighth consecutive year, beating UNLV 42-37 after trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter and 31-14 at the half.

It took a friendly halftime reminder from Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault of a little mantra he likes to call "Do your 1/11th."

Translated, the slogan means each of the 11 men on the field need only worry about doing his job. Ault's players got the message, particularly the UNR defense, which held the Rebels scoreless in the second half until 44 seconds remained and the Wolf Pack had a safe 42-31 lead.

"I thought we were outstanding defensively in the second half," Ault said. "Offensively, we just had to settle down and do what we're supposed to.

"We didn't play with any emotion that first half. No energy. I don't know why. In a game like this, you play with energy when you get off the bus. We didn't. But we did in the second half, and that was the difference."

That meant heavy doses of Stefphon Jefferson running the ball, backup quarterback Devin Combs taking better care of the ball and the UNR defense swarming to the ball to get UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry on his heels and bottle up running back Tim Cornett, who scorched the Wolf Pack for 108 first-half yards only to finish with 129.

Mike Bradeson, the former UNLV defensive coordinator who now serves UNR in the same capacity, said once his unit remembered the "1/11th" premise, they played as expected.

"They just had to settle down," Bradeson said. "If you do your job, you get great results. If you don't, it's a mess."

Combs said he needed to manage the game better, and his play was much crisper following his fumble at the UNLV 1-yard line on UNR's opening possession of the third quarter.

"Once we were able to eliminate the turnovers, we were able to find our rhythm and we were able to move the ball much better," he said. "I knew I had to play better, but we knew we weren't out of it at halftime."

With Jefferson running the ball effectively and Combs making plays with his arm and his legs, the Wolf Pack wore down the Rebels defense.

"I just had to stay patient," said Jefferson, who rushed for 185 yards and scored three touchdowns. "I'm trying to wait for the holes to open up, and our line did a great job making room for me, especially in the second half. All I did was my 1/11th."

UNR had 496 yards of total offense on a day when its starting quarterback and team leader, Cody Fajardo, was on the sidelines. The sophomore suffered back spasms last week against Wyoming, and Combs came off the bench to rally the Wolf Pack to a 35-28 overtime win at Mackay Stadium.

Fajardo appeared ready to go Saturday. But Ault decided to go with Combs, a sophomore.

"Cody couldn't run, not the way he's got to run," Ault said.

As it turned out, Fajardo wasn't needed. Combs was 14-for-19 for 167 yards, two TD passes and a second-quarter interception by Fred Wilson in the end zone. He also rushed for 111 yards and scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with his 2-yard run around the right side with 2:12 remaining.

"The main focus was to bring the cannon back," said Combs, who was making his first start for the Wolf Pack.

The UNLV players were hoping the red cannon stickers on their helmets Saturday would lead to finally having the cannon back in Las Vegas. But in the end, it was Ault and his players, who each did their 1/11th and retained possession of the trophy.

"Let me tell you something," Ault said. "That cannon ain't red. It's blue and silver."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.