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Mired in 13-game losing streak, UNLV takes on rival UNR

UNLV senior defensive back Aaron Lewis offered a pensive pause Monday morning before speaking about the toughest thing — the only thing — he’s experienced this season.

“Really just losing. I really just hate losing, so that’s been the toughest thing for me,” Lewis said. “I really want to get a win.”

UNLV hasn’t won a football game since Nov. 30, 2019, when it defeated rival UNR in the regular-season finale. That makes 699 days as of Friday, when the Rebels return to Reno to play their rival once again. They’ve lost 13 straight games and are operating as one of two winless programs at the FBS level this season.

The other, Arizona, is mired in a 19-game losing streak, the longest in the country.

UNLV is a 20.5-point underdog to UNR and won’t be favored in a single game this season, per Red Rock Resort sportsbook director Chuck Esposito. Their losing streak could grow to 18 games if they fail to win another game this season.

“They’ve been in a lot of games,” Esposito said of UNLV. “They’ve had opportunities. There’s been several games where we actually thought the losing streak would end … They’ve had some chances. Once they win one, maybe that’ll change.”

Rebels coach Marcus Arroyo, whose first UNLV team went 0-6 last season in a pandemic-shortened campaign, acknowledged the emotional toll that losing takes.

“It’s human. … You can only get punched in the face so many times. A lot of people don’t get up,” Arroyo said. “Our guys get up every time. Go back to work. I’m humbled by that. I think they’re taking on the identity of our coaches. The identity of our program. … I get fired up talking about it because it’s tough to keep getting up. It’s tough.

“They haven’t flinched. These guys get up every time.”

To that point, the Rebels have continued to compete for Arroyo, whose sought to instill that kind of mentality since he arrived last year from Oregon.

And there seems to be some progress, even if the win-loss record doesn’t reflect it.

Power Five programs Arizona State and Iowa State dismantled UNLV, but the Rebels have stayed within a single score of their other five foes. Sometimes it’s turnovers that doom UNLV. Penalties and execution issues have played a role in other losses.

Last week against San Jose State, the Rebels simply ran out of time — falling a few yards short of a potential game-winning score as time expired.

“When you lose, it’s like no positives coming out of it,” said senior running back Charles Williams. “You can say you did a lot of good stuff. But at the end of the day, you put in all that work to win. You don’t put in all the work to lose. It’s good that you’re seeing improvement from last year, though. … We’re starting to look like an actual team.”

To that point, statistics do reflect some improvement. The Rebels are allowing fewer yards (445 per game in 2021, 482.7 in 2020) and points (33.7) than they did last year (38.0). They’re scoring at the same clip (17.3 points), though, and tallying nearly 40 fewer yards per game.

But penalties are down, too, from 6.5 to 5.2

There’s certainly some additional enthusiasm this week with the rival Wolf Pack looming and an opportunity to seize the Fremont Cannon: “You really feel it,” Lewis said. “A lot of people really care about this rivalry game. I really care about it … and I know my team does too.”

Recapturing the cannon and ending the losing streak Friday requires the disruption of UNR’s Carson Strong, one of the top quarterback prospects should he enter the 2022 NFL draft. The Wolf Pack are coming off a 34-32 road loss to Fresno State, a team the Rebels nearly beat as well.

Lewis is doing all he can to maintain a positive attitude in the face of the adversity that UNLV is facing. A win against UNR would certainly help.

“You’re going to go through rough times, but you have to find a way to keep getting up and keep getting after it each and every day,” he said. “You can’t just give up or quit. Right now, we are going through a tough time, but we’re going to keep trying to find a way to get better each and every day, and not giving up.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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