They were numbers of fiction for UNLV football, only real:
Thirty-four first downs, zero by rushing.
Ninety-six plays, 17 on the ground.
Five fourth-quarter possessions that produced 28 points, 41 pass attempts and just two rushing attempts, one being a sack.
A total of 79 pass attempts for 635 yards.
And this: One.
As in defeat.
“When I walked off the field that night, I would have given back all the yards and records for a win,” Randy Gatewood said. “I was just exhausted. We had given it everything we had. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the victory.
“But the only thing we can’t have back is time. We have all the memories, our teammates and coaches, everyone who shared in that game, to remember it as a magical evening. I can still remember everything about it.
“It was crazy.”
It produced the greatest offensive quarter in school history and one that still has a solid place in the NCAA record book, a game played 20 years ago this week between the Rebels and Idaho.
The current UNLV team next plays at Houston on Saturday, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Bobby Hauck’s side to borrow a page from the play-by-play of that matchup from Sept. 17, 1994.
Specifically, the fourth quarter.
It happens when you’re chasing a score.
It just doesn’t happen to this level of execution.
Jeff Horton was in his first year as UNLV’s coach, having inherited a program that went 3-8 the previous season and had just one winning record in the seven years before his arrival. There wasn’t much confidence in the locker room. No one believed all that much.
The Rebels were 1-1 when Idaho arrived at Sam Boyd Stadium, and the Vandals built a 45-10 lead entering the fourth quarter. Horton sensed that a familiar sentiment had crept into his team’s mindset on the sideline, one of doubt and uncertainty and skepticism that the program’s fortunes really could change.
“It was a feeling of ‘Here we go again,’ ” said Horton, now an assistant head coach in charge of running backs at San Diego State. “In years past, I think they might have folded up the tents right there. But we made a few plays to start that fourth quarter, and the more things began to turn around, the more they started to believe.
“There’s not much you can do when you’re behind by that much except throw the ball. They say that faith is belief without evidence. That comeback was evidence we could be a good football team, and it really set the tone for our entire season.”
When the final seconds ticked away, several records had fallen. Idaho, a Division I-AA team at the time, would win 48-38. But not before the Rebels lit up the scoreboard in a historic fourth quarter, aided by the fact Idaho lost fumbles on its first three possessions.
Twenty years later, these NCAA records set by UNLV quarterback Jason Davis still stand:
Total offensive plays: 41.
Total offensive yards: 347.
Pass attempts: 41.
Passing yards: 347.
All in one quarter by one player.
All over just 11 minutes, 7 seconds of possession time.
Gatewood also remains tied for the NCAA record with 23 receptions from that game, which saw him gain 363 receiving yards, including 207 in the fourth quarter.
He finished with 419 all-purpose yards.
“A lot of it was just instinct that night,” said Gatewood, who played 12 seasons in the Arena Football League and in 2006 was ranked the 17th-best player in its history. “I think if there was just a little more time left on the clock, we would have won. Every throw in the second half seemed perfect. We were all in a zone. What we accomplished really didn’t dawn on me until the following week, when ESPN and Sports Illustrated and all these media outlets wanted interviews.
“It doesn’t feel like 20 years. Man, where has the time gone? I would have thought by now some of those records might be broken, given how offenses are now with the passing game.
“I suppose that shows how special a game and fourth quarter it really was. From the moment (Horton) and his staff stepped on campus, there was this sense that we would be more prepared to win games than before. We lost, but that game put us on the right track for the season.”
It was one that concluded with a 7-5 record, a share of the Big West Conference championship and a 52-24 win against Central Michigan in the Las Vegas Bowl. It would be the only winning season UNLV enjoyed under Horton, who lasted five years as coach.
Two decades later, the numbers from one memorable evening still seem a thing of fiction.
But they were real.
Tell you what — Hauck and his team could use a little such magic Saturday.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.
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