“It’s special,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said about the trophy. “It needs to be blue, and it needs to stay blue. The kids understand that. Anytime you have a prize like that in your own state, where every year is a championship game whether you like it or not, that’s special. That cannon symbolizes something very special to our program and more importantly to our fans.”
The offense shined on the night for the Wolf Pack, putting up 699 yards, but the defense was not to be outdone, allowing 110 yards, including just one completed pass.
“That’s huge for us, for this team’s confidence, this community’s confidence in us,” Nevada defensive lineman Brett Roy said. “We showed our resolve and our fortitude and we stopped the ball. We just completely dominated and I give it all to our coaches and how they prepared us. Everyone knew what we had to do. We told the offense ‘we got you’ and that’s what we did. We had their back 100 percent the whole game.”
The game started off slow and sloppy for both teams, with the Wolf Pack turning the ball over on an interception when wide receiver Aaron Bradley bobbled a pass from Cody Fajardo and went into the hands of Mike Clausen.
UNLV punted the ball back to Nevada, but on the second play of its possession, Fajardo fumbled on an option keeper at the Wolf Pack 17-yard line.
The Rebels promptly handed the ball back to Nevada, as Isaiah Frey picked off a pass in the corner of the end zone, tapping down both of his feet before falling out of bounds.
Nevada did not squander its possession, putting three points on the board with a 29-yard field goal kicked by Allen Hardison with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
The game remained at 3-0 until just over seven minutes left in the second quarter, when Tyler Lantrip came into the game for the first time, replacing Fajardo.
Sparking the Wolf Pack offense on his very first play from under center, Lantrip hit Rishard Matthews on a quick hitch pass that Matthews turned up field, stiff arming a UNLV defender at the 18-yard line and racing the length of the field down the right sideline for the 90-yard touchdown and 10-0 lead.
Nevada’s defense forced another Rebel three-and out, which the Wolf Pack converted into a touchdown when wide receiver Corbin Louks took a pass from Lantrip across the middle, bouncing of a would-be UNLV defender at the 26-yard line and into the end zone for the 17-0 Nevada advantage with a minute left until halftime.
Another quick punt by UNLV allowed the Wolf Pack to add on to their lead before the end of the half, as Hardison kicked a 41-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining in the quarter to push the lead to 20-0. At the intermission, Nevada had held UNLV to two first downs and 48 yards of offense, none of which came in the passing game.
The second half saw more of the same from Nevada as it continued to dominate the inept Rebel offense. After forcing a punt and a subsequent missed field goal by UNLV, the Wolf Pack added a 22-yard field goal to make the lead 23-0 with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
Taking a Rebel turnover-on-downs, Nevada made the deficit 30-0 two minutes into the fourth quarter on a pass from Lantrip to wide receiver Shane Anderson.
The remainder of the game played out slow before the Wolf Pack put the cherry on top of its victory with a four-yard touchdown run by Lampford Mark with over four minutes left in the game, resulting in the 37-0 final score.
“That was an outstanding defensive game,” Ault said. “You play a whole game and they only complete one pass that whole game, that’s outstanding. The front end, the back end, and the middle. Defensively all night we were just outstanding. I’m real proud. We have really worked hard to get that defense where it’s at.”
Lantrip threw for 366 of the Wolf Pack’s 459 yards passing, completing 18 of his 29 pass attempts. Matthews totaled 220 yards receiving on the night with 10 receptions and a touchdown. Stefphon Jefferson led Nevada in rushing with 100 yards total on 17 carries. Roy led the strong defensive performance by the Wolf Pack with 11 tackles, four for a loss and one sack.
“I can’t even think about what that cannon looks like red,” Roy said. “We know at Nevada, we do not lose to UNLV because its tradition up here. They don’t know anything about tradition. We took it from them and we kept it, and it‘ll stay here for years and years to come.”
Nevada (2-3, 1-0) next plays New Mexico Saturday at 1 p.m.