Note: This is the seventh installment of a weekly feature, except for UNLV’s two bye weeks, that will look at a notable Rebels game at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV moves to Allegiant Stadium next year.
San Diego State went to Sam Boyd Stadium on Nov. 16, 1996, expecting to take part in a coronation as much as a football game.
Holiday Bowl officials were in the press box, all prepared to invite the hometown Aztecs. At 6-2 in the Western Athletic Conference, they needed a victory to make the league title game.
On the other side was an 0-10 UNLV team, a 28½-point underdog.
But Rebels quarterback Jon Denton played the game of his life, completing 27 of 53 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns, setting five national records in a 44-42 win. His passing yardage still stands as a UNLV record.
Lenny Ware caught seven passes for 200 yards and a 82-yard touchdown, and Damon Williams had four receptions for 112 yards and a 75-yard TD.
“We knew they were overlooking us, as most teams were that year,” Denton told the Review-Journal in 2008. “We knew after the first two or three series we could take them on. We felt our offense could play with anybody.”
Even so, the Aztecs didn’t go away easily and even outgained UNLV 670 yards to 627.
San Diego State nearly escaped with the victory, sending out usually reliable kicker Peter Holt for a 35-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining. He had made 14 of 15 field goals up to that point, but badly missed this one to the left.
The Rebels ended their season the following week with a 31-28 loss to San Jose State, finishing 1-11. But that one victory was one that many remember.