RENO — Tony Sanchez can say he had a winning record against UNLV’s biggest rival, going out in his final game as the Rebels’ coach a 33-30 winner when Kenyon Oblad threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Steve Jenkins to beat UNR in overtime Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Jenkins then ran near UNR’s sideline and appeared to taunt the players, and Oblad was hit from the side by a Wolf Pack player, sparking fights between the teams. UNR fans in the south end zone threw objects onto the field, and a soda bottle hit Review-Journal videographer Cassie Soto in her left ear.
That wasn’t the final memory Sanchez — who officially was fired Monday — wanted at UNLV, but he will take great satisfaction in winning the Fremont Cannon three of five seasons, including the final two.
“We don’t have anything after this game, so you’ve got to empty your tank right now,” UNLV linebacker Javin White said. “This is a rivalry game. Tempers are high. It’s about bragging rights. It’s about pride. It’s about a lot of things, the city of Las Vegas versus the city of Reno.”
Oblad completed 16 of 22 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns for UNLV, which finished 4-8 overall (2-6 in the Mountain West). Charles Williams rushed for 138 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown, and Jenkins caught five passes for 140 yards and two TDs.
Carson Strong completed 33 of 54 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown for UNR (7-5, 4-4).
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Sanchez’s firing wasn’t a distraction
End-of-season coaching changes can give a team a rallying point or cause it to split apart, and both have occurred at UNLV.
Mike Sanford was fired with a game to go in the 2009 season, but the Rebels beat San Diego State 28-24. Five years later, Bobby Hauck announced his resignation on the eve of the 2014 finale, but UNLV was routed 49-27 by UNR.
Sanford’s players had more time to absorb the news, while Hauck’s found out nearly at the last moment, and maybe that’s the lesson. Sanchez’s players had almost a week to digest the news, and by the time they took the field Saturday, they were prepared and went on to take a 17-0 first-quarter lead.
“We did a really good job of not worrying about it all week,” Sanchez said. “We just focused on the game. We didn’t focus on what’s going to happen after or anything like that.”
2. UNLV went conservative, then got aggressive
Ahead 27-13 in the fourth quarter, the Rebels got too careful in trying to run clock offensively and on defense rushing three and four defensive linemen while trying to keep everything in front of them.
UNR took advantage by moving the ball and scoring two touchdowns in the final 6:47. But the Rebels played more aggressively in getting stops on UNR’s final offensive possession of regulation and its overtime drive to force a field goal.
UNLV then went for the end zone on a third-and-4 to win the game.
“For (the defense) to get that big stop and hold them to a field goal, we felt like we needed to score for them,” Oblad said.
3. The second season begins
All attention turns to what UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois does next. UNLV’s opening has attracted interest from potential candidates such as former NFL and UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., former Fresno State coach and current California defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.
The question is the level of interest from Reed-Francois, who does not comment on coaching searches.
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