The mood was dour in 2004 the week of the football game against UNR.
UNLV had just come off a stunning 31-21 home loss to Utah State, a defeat so disheartening that coach John Robinson announced the following day he would retire after the season.
That loss also dropped the Rebels to 0-4, a team seemingly headed nowhere.
But UNLV’s players liked their chances against UNR in that Oct. 2, 2004, game at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“I knew one thing, I knew we were going to win,” said Zach Bell, a linebacker on that team. “No doubt about it. I never anticipated us losing. There was something about us playing Reno, I believed we had their number.”
UNLV did indeed beat the Wolf Pack, scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win, 48-13.
That was the last Rebels team to beat UNR, a losing streak that has stretched to a series-record eight games.
UNLV (4-3, 2-1 Mountain West) gets another shot at UNR (3-4, 2-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Reno.
A victory would be huge for UNLV and could lead to a new streak. The Rebels’ 2004 victory capped a five-game winning streak over UNR, answering a skid of 10 losses in the previous 11 meetings.
“When I came, there was kind of a dread of the game almost,” said Robinson, who coached UNLV from 1999 to 2004. “It was really difficult to play up there, and (there were) a lot of negative things from our perspective about the game. We lost that first one, and then once we changed it, we really made it fun. We kind of expected to win, and it would be a game we felt we would do well in.”
UNLV broke its skid against UNR in 2000 in an emotional 38-7 victory in Las Vegas, beginning the five-game winning streak over their state brethren.
“After the first couple of ones we won, we weren’t going to be the first ones to lose to Reno,” Bell said. “It took a year or so, especially the guys in my class, to understand what a rivalry was. We knew for a fact that we despised Reno and they would never beat us while we were there.”
That sense of determination helped the Rebels in 2004 coming off that crushing defeat to Utah State. They outgained the Aggies 550 yards to 291 but were undone by five turnovers.
Utah State sealed the game with a 79-yard touchdown pass with 4:16 left, and Joe Miklos remembers it well because he was the defender on the play.
“I tried to bat a pass and missed, and the guy ran for a touchdown,” said Miklos, a safety. “So that game to me will always stick out in my mind.
“I remember after that loss wanting to play so bad, just wanting to get back out on the field and kind of make up for my mistake. … Sometimes I still wake up in the middle of the night looking back at the Utah State guy running for a touchdown.”
Miklos created much better memories the following week against the Wolf Pack. He intercepted a pass and returned it 79 yards to set up a field goal, broke up three passes and recorded a sack to become the conference defensive player of the week.
Late in the third quarter or early in the fourth period, a “sense of relief” came over him when it became clear the Rebels would win.
“The whole rest of that game was so much fun,” Miklos said. “I remember smiling and laughing, and that was one of my more happy moments at UNLV.”
He was one of several Rebels who made big plays.
Dominique Dorsey rushed for 141 yards, quarterback Kurt Nantkes and wide receiver Earvin Johnson connected for two touchdowns, safety Jay Staggs returned an interception 42 yards to set up a TD, and linebacker Adam Seward made 15 tackles.
Then there was linebacker Terrence Young, who finished with eight tackles, a fumble recovery, an interception and a sack.
During his time at UNLV, Robinson began a tradition of putting the names of the seniors on a plaque when they beat the Wolf Pack. The score from that year’s game also is listed, and five such plaques sit near the entrance to Rebel Park.
“You walk by that wall every time you go to practice,” said Sergio Aguayo, who as UNLV’s kicker scored 12 points in that 2004 game. “You see all those names and you look at it and go, ‘When we play them my senior year, I want to be on that wall.’ ”
Nine years have passed since a new plaque has gone up.
“I was like no possible way it’s been that long,” Miklos said. “That just makes me mad.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.