UNLV has mostly kept quiet, avoiding any statements that would wind up on a UNR bulletin board.
The Wolf Pack haven’t been as guarded.
UNR quarterback Cody Fajardo tweeted in July he looked forward to turning the Fremont Cannon blue, and his coach, Brian Polian, quickly defended his player rather than downplay the remarks.
To say the Wolf Pack are upset at losing the cannon last football season in Reno after owning it for eight years is an understatement.
But it also would be a miscalculation to believe the passion to defend the cannon doesn’t burn equally bright in the Rebels’ locker room, and that would be especially true after the school announced Friday that coach Bobby Hauck would be resigning Monday.
“Everyone in this town knows how big this game is,” UNLV H-back Taylor Barnhill said earlier in the week before the announcement of Hauck’s resignation. “We don’t need much motivation to get going. We know.”
The teams will settle the matter beginning at 7:30 p.m. today at Sam Boyd Stadium. It will be the final game for 25 UNLV seniors, who will be honored before the game.
Except for last season, those seniors have experienced many tough times at UNLV. Most were part of last season’s 27-22 victory at UNR, and they were integral to the Rebels making a bowl for the first time in 13 years.
Now they get a chance to create another special moment against a team that hasn’t been shy about its own desires.
“The game’s special already from the moment it’s marked on our calendars,” UNLV wide receiver Devante Davis said. “Tweets or whatever was said doesn’t affect us because we understand what’s at hand when we have to play them anyway.”
This is, in effect, UNLV’s bowl game.
The Rebels (2-10, 1-6 Mountain West) will be home for the postseason, and Hauck hopes to go out with a victory over the team’s fiercest rival. He also hopes to avoid finishing with two victories for the fourth time in his five seasons.
UNR (6-5, 3-4) will try to ensure a winning season tonight and improve its odds of playing in a bowl. Until last weekend, the Wolf Pack appeared headed for the West Division title, but lost 40-20 at home to Fresno State, which has the inside track of playing for the conference championship.
The Wolf Pack are 10-point favorites over the Rebels, and Fajardo is the main reason they are expected to win. He is just the type of quarterback, one who runs and passes effectively, who challenges UNLV the most. Fajardo has passed for 2,328 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 854 yards and 12 TDs.
UNLV could go with two quarterbacks.
Jared Lebowitz started in place of Blake Decker last Saturday at Hawaii, and after engineering touchdowns on his first two drives, he couldn’t get the Rebels back into the end zone. Decker came off the bench in the fourth quarter and threw three touchdown passes, including what appeared to be the winner with 15 seconds left until a series of events led to Hawaii grabbing the victory.
The Rebels didn’t start Decker because he has been dealing with an assortment of injuries, including to his neck and hip. Hauck said Decker will be available tonight but didn’t know to what extent.
No matter who is the quarterback, the Rebels need production from running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, who has rushed for at least 125 yards twice but has been ineffective at other times. A big game from him should put UNLV in position to retain the cannon.
That trophy, the largest and most expensive in college football, has been sitting in the UNLV locker room, a daily reminder to the players of what’s at stake.
“The fact of the matter is whoever wins the game gets to own that thing for a year, and we’ve enjoyed having it,” Hauck said Monday. “We’d like to keep it.”
UNLV also has another regular reminder of what’s at stake. Near the entrance to the practice field are plaques listing the names of seniors on each team that has beaten the Wolf Pack.
Last year’s senior class added its own plaque. The 25 who will be honored tonight would like nothing more than to join them.
“To be able to get our senior names on the wall would be unbelievable,” said Barnhill, one of the seniors. “To see the seniors last year and win it for them, that was a great feeling.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.
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