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Ending road woes tall order for UNLV at San Diego State

SAN DIEGO — UNLV closes its football season in two destination cities that are supposed to be places to get away and relax.

Only the road has been quite stressful for the Rebels, who haven’t played a meaningful fourth quarter this season away from Sam Boyd Stadium.

That isn’t likely to happen tonight, either, when 24-point underdog UNLV (2-9, 2-5 Mountain West Conference) plays San Diego State (7-4, 4-3) at 5 p.m. The Rebels finish their season next Saturday at Hawaii.

UNLV’s closest away game was a 30-7 defeat at Idaho on Sept. 18. Its most recent road losses were by 39 points to West Virginia, 33 to Colorado State and 48 to Brigham Young.

Not only are the Rebels back on the road, they’re back at Qualcomm Stadium. That’s the place where they needed to win in the 2008 season finale to become bowl eligible but instead were blasted 42-21 by the Aztecs.

“I don’t think you ever forget something like that,” UNLV center John Gianninoto said. “A lot of guys remember that.”

UNLV and San Diego State entered that game apparently heading in opposite directions. The victory over UNLV was one of the few highlights for the Aztecs, who had fired coach Chuck Long earlier in the day.

The programs again appear headed in opposite directions but this time for different reasons. Second-year coach Brady Hoke has the Aztecs bowl eligible for the first time since 1998, and a victory tonight and another in the bowl would give them their best season since 1977.

For UNLV, this season has been one long struggle. First-year coach Bobby Hauck has plenty of work to do in order to win anywhere close to what he did at Montana. Another loss tonight or next weekend would equal the number of losses Hauck suffered in his final five seasons combined with the Grizzlies.

But a victory might show UNLV’s program has promise. The Rebels are coming off two encouraging performances — a 42-16 victory over Wyoming and a 35-20 loss to Air Force.

“I definitely see positives, and momentum is going up,” UNLV safety Alex De Giacomo said.

UNLV also had extra time to prepare for San Diego State, having last played Nov. 18.

“We should be freshened up a little bit, or as much as you can be this time of year,” Hauck said. “This is Game 12, so nobody’s going to be too frisky.”

The Rebels face a San Diego State team with the Mountain West’s most dynamic passing offense.

Quarterback Ryan Lindley averages 292.4 yards passing per game, and wide receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson each has more than 1,000 yards.

Also, running back Ronnie Hillman averages 104.7 yards rushing per game.

“San Diego State’s a good football team,” Hauck said. “We’ll be hard-pressed to go down and get a win.”

And if the Rebels pull off a victory tonight, that would be a rare good memory for this season, especially for the seniors.

“We talk about it, and we know our time is running out, our clock is ticking pretty fast here,” Gianninoto said. “So we have to make the most out of it.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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