He’s not Donnel Pumphrey or Jeremy McNichols, but UNLV made UNR’s James Butler look like the best running back in the Mountain West on Saturday.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 210-pound junior ran roughshod from the get-go and compiled 196 yards rushing, 48 receiving and four touchdowns as the Wolf Pack regained the Fremont Cannon with an impressive 45-10 win at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“All credit to the O-line,” Butler said. “They made my job easy with all the holes they opened up for me. I just ran through them.”
By the time Butler found himself wrapped up by red jerseys, he already had inflicted his damage. His 33-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter put UNR ahead 17-0. Though plenty of time remained for UNLV to get back in the game, as long as Butler was thriving, there wasn’t going to be a Rebels rally.
“We wanted to come out fast and we did,” Butler said. “We had a great game plan and we attacked right away and kinda got their defense back on their heels. Whenever you do that, you have the advantage.”
Butler entered No. 5 in the conference in rushing, averaging 103.6 yards per game. His best performance prior to Saturday was against woeful Fresno State on Oct. 8 when he gained 175 yards on 37 carries. Against UNLV, he carried fewer times (32) but gained more yardage (196).
“We wanted to bring the cannon back to Northern Nevada,” Butler said. “It was a great effort by everybody.”
After the Fremont Cannon changed hands for the fourth straight meeting for the first time in series history, UNR players wheeled college football’s heaviest rivalry trophy (545 pounds) to midfield. Several players sprayed blue paint on it before continuing the celebration in the locker room.
They had been waiting since January to break out the spray cans. That’s when first-year Wolf Pack offensive line coach Jonathan Himebaugh — UNLV’s offensive line coach in 2004 — gave the cans to his linemen at midfield at Reno’s Mackay Stadium, telling them they would be using them this season. Each player held on to his can and brought it to Las Vegas.
UNR finished 5-7, but still could gain a bowl invitation depending upon the team’s Academic Progress Report score. If there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the games, APR comes into play; that’s how San Jose State got into a bowl last year with a 5-7 record.
“We’ll see,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said. “It’s probably a long shot but you never know.”
UNR has been to a bowl 10 of the last 11 seasons, one of only four non-Power Five conference teams to have done so. The others are Boise State, Brigham Young and Navy.
Rebels sophomore running back Lexington Thomas saw his first action since Oct. 29 when he sprained his ankle against San Jose State. Thomas gained 10 yards on four carries, giving him a season total of 642 yards, second most on the team. True freshman Charles Williams ran for 48 yards Saturday to finish with a UNLV freshman record 763 for the season.
Ending on a sour note
Including one bowl trip, UNLV lost its season finale for the seventh consecutive season. The last time the Rebels ended the season with a win was 2009 when they defeated San Diego State 28-24.
Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter. Contact Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.