UNLV’s wacky football history includes 2 moments this season

Chuck Davison owns 12 season tickets in the first three rows behind the UNLV football team’s bench, and since the program first kicked off in 1968, he has missed only 25 games.

It was in that first season that Davison should’ve known what was coming when the Rebels were trying to complete an undefeated season — yes, it was a long time ago — when a Cal Lutheran player intercepted a pass and dashed down the sideline. Mike Forch, who would go on to become Wayne Newton’s bodyguard for more than 20 years, leaped off the sideline to tackle the Lutheran player.

The flags came out, and the Rebels wound up losing 17-13.

“Everybody was talking about it,” Davison said.

UNLV football has given its followers a lot to talk about over the ensuing years. Even if the victories have been few, the program has produced enough unusual moments that if they happened at Alabama or Southern California, tomes would be written.

This season is a perfect example. UNLV, which plays Utah State at 3 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, has been victim of what is believed to be the largest point-spread upset loss in history and a blown 27-0 lead.

A shot in the dark

In the first UNLV-UNR game, the Rebels thought they had the game won in 1969 at Reno’s Mackay Stadium, where lights were not yet in place.

The Rebels were clinging to a one-point lead when UNR kicker John Barnes lined up for a 33-yard field goal attempt with 1:01 left. His kick sailed through the darkness, and most fans couldn’t determine whether the kick was good, but the officials emerged with their arms raised, giving the Wolf Pack a 30-28 victory.

Some UNLV players remain skeptical even now.

KT goes all the way

In a 1999 trip to then-lightweight Baylor, the Rebels looked as if they would lose with the clock ticking down and the Bears only needing to kneel. But the Bears tried to run up the score, and UNLV forced a fumble that cornerback Kevin Thomas picked up and ran 100 yards for a touchdown and 27-24 victory.

UNLV became the first college team to win on the last play while trailing and without the ball.

“It will go down in history as one of the great ‘Why did you do it?’ questions,” then-Baylor coach Kevin Steele said after the game.

In 2007, ESPN.com ranked it among the Top 100 Defining Plays in College Football History.

The night the lights went out

Wisconsin fans, or at least those who bet on the Badgers, to this day claim they were robbed.

UNLV opened the 2002 season against the Badgers, who were well on their way to victory at 27-7 when the lights went out at Sam Boyd Stadium with 7:41 left. Both coaches decided to call the game, which gave Wisconsin the victory.

The controversy set in when the sports books didn’t honor the tickets because the game wasn’t considered official from a betting standpoint until it reached the final five minutes. Conspiracy theories took off after refunds rather than winnings were issued.

‘We’re staying out here now!’

UNLV coach Mike Sanford thought the Rebels might have had a victory in 2006 at Iowa State, but an official ruled wide receiver Aaron Straiten came down out of bounds.

Sanford demanded a review, and even went into the neighboring athletic building as the Rebels remained on the field.

Sanford was picked up on video while exiting the building and heading back to the field, where he tripped over a cable and yelled at his team not to leave. He then demanded to speak with Iowa State’s athletic director.

Finally after about 15 minutes, Sanford and the Rebels left the field with a 16-10 loss.

The game prompted the Mountain West to institute a rule that the referee couldn’t leave the field until notified a video review has been conducted.

And then this year

The Rebels opened this season with a 43-40 loss to Howard as a 45-point favorite, believed to be the largest upset based on point spread.

Then on Saturday at Air Force, the Rebels scored the first 27 points and lost 34-30. It’s eight points shy of the FBS record, but believed to be the biggest blown lead in UNLV history.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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