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UNLV, UNR football to meet for 1st time on Nevada Day

Updated October 28, 2020 - 5:55 pm

Chances to make history don’t come around often, but there will be plenty of opportunities Saturday when UNLV hosts UNR.

For starters, it will be the first game for the Rebels at Allegiant Stadium. It also will be the first time fans will be allowed in the stadium, with attendance in the 65,000-seat stadium limited to 2,000 because of coronavirus protocols. The Raiders have played their first three games in the stadium without fans.

And there’s no better way to christen a new era than by UNLV playing its in-state rival in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon — with the state’s only two college football teams meeting for the first time on Nevada Day, the anniversary of the Silver State’s admission to the Union on Oct. 31, 1864.

“It’s very exciting,” UNLV running back Charles Williams said. “It’s a $2 billion stadium, and we want to protect the name on the front (of our jerseys) and show out for our family that can be there. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

The Fremont Cannon is a replica of the howitzer that explorer John C. Fremont took with him on his expedition through Nevada, California and Oregon in the mid-19th century. At 545 pounds, it’s the largest trophy for a rivalry game in college football.

The cannon also has the added element of changing color depending on which team wins the game. If the Rebels win, they paint it red. If UNR wins, the cannon becomes blue.

UNR leads the series 26-19, but the Rebels have won four of the past seven and kept the cannon red for two straight seasons for the first time since doing so for five in a row from 2000 to 2004.

This will be UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo’s first foray into the rivalry. He follows Tony Sanchez, who was 20-40 in five years at the school but 3-2 against UNR.

The Rebels rallied from a 23-0 deficit in 2018 for a 34-29 win in Las Vegas to reclaim the cannon and secure their first home win in the series since 2004.

Last season, UNLV let a 17-point lead get away before quarterback Kenyon Oblad and Steve Jenkins connected on a 19-yard touchdown in overtime for a 33-30 victory in Reno. The win was marred by an ugly incident involving players and fans after the game that led to suspensions for both teams.

Neither team wants a repeat of that, and Williams hopes to avoid a similar scene to what he saw after his freshman year in 2016, when UNR drubbed the Rebels 45-10 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“They just blew us out of the water, and watching them pull the cannon out and spray painting it blue on our field was so disrespectful,” Williams said. “I just knew this was a serious game because whoever pulls that cannon out, it’s a special moment for them.”

One thing that will be different is the timing of the game. Throughout most of the series’ history, it had been played in September or early October, but was moved to late November each of the past four seasons.

That allowed for a natural crescendo throughout the year to that final climactic game. Saturday’s game will be the second for both teams.

“It’s a really important game because a community and city and program, regardless of where you are in the country, there’s a lot of pride in (a rivalry) game,” Arroyo said. “But there’s an inherent danger in hanging everything on it. You don’t ever want to downplay the game, but you don’t want to hang the entire season on it, either.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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