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The 12 most memorable games in Nevada and UNLV's bitter history

Mike McCoy
Mike McCoy hauls in a pass during a game against UNLV in 2005. (Nevada athletics)

The Nevada-UNLV rivalry isn't the oldest in Wolf Pack football history (not even close), but it's certainly the most heated. The teams first played in 1969 (that game was mired in controversy) and controversy has been a mainstay in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon ever since. With Nevada and UNLV resuming their battle Saturday when the Wolf Pack hosts the Rebels on Saturday afternoon, here is a look at the 12 most memorable moments in the rivalry's history.

1. 1995 (Sanders throws his helmet): The most memorable game between these two isn't remembered for what happened during the game (Nevada won, 55-32). Instead, it's remembered for what happened after the game (Reed High graduate Quincy Sanders threw his helmet at Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault). There was nearly a pre-game brawl, which was tamed, but things boiled over after Nevada ran up the score late. As Nevada went to get the Fremont Cannon, a ruckus broke out and Sanders' flung his helmet into infamy.

2. 1969 (The kick that was good, or was it?): The first game played between these rivals remains the one that ended with the narrowest margin of victory (a 30-28 Nevada win). Wolf Pack quarterback/kicker John Barnes, who accounted for two touchdowns, nailed a game-winning 33-yard field goal with about a minute remaining. It was so dark near the end of the game, UNLV claimed the kick missed, but most agree it was good. The refs said it was good, and that's all that really matters.

3. 1978 (Cannon on the plane): After four straight rivalry game losses, Nevada beat UNLV in 1978 and Ault talked security officials into allowing the team to carry the cannon onto the plane after the equipment truck left the stadium without the cannon aboard. Frank Hawkins, a Vegas native, carried the barrel onto the plane and sat with it on the flight home. No word on whether the 545-pound cannon would fit in the plastic bags required to carry things on a plane these days. This also marked Ault's first win over UNLV after he lost his first two battles with them (he was 16-6 in his career against the Rebels).

4. 1994 (The Red Defection Game): After one season as Nevada's head coach, Jeff Horton, Ault's hand-picked successor, decided to head south and coach the hated Rebels. The following season, in 1994, Horton led UNLV to a 32-27 win over the Wolf Pack and his former mentor (Ault) in the Red Defection Game. That would be the only time Horton beat Nevada, losing the next four rivalry games (each by at least 11 points) before being fired with a 13-44 record.

5. 2007 (Sammons saves the day): Rarely have Nevada-UNLV games been competitive to the final minute, but the 2007 game bucked that trend. Nick Graziano hit Kyle Sammons with a 43-yard, game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining to cap a 27-20 Wolf Pack victory. It was Graziano's third touchdown pass of the game and still serves as the latest game-winning, go-ahead score in the history of the rivalry.

6. 2003 (Beer bottle hits Robinson): In the ugliest moment in the rivalry's history, UNLV coach John Robinson was hit near the head with a half-full plastic beer bottle during intermission of the 2003 game. Not only is throwing a beer bottle at somebody stupid, it's illegal. UNLV won the game, 16-12, one of five UNLV wins over Nevada during Robinson's six seasons as the team's head coach (no other UNLV coach has more than three wins over the Wolf Pack).

7. 2018 (UNLV's epic comeback): Nevada entered the 2018 game as a 14-point favorite and showed why in the early going, building a 23-0 lead in the game's first 16 minutes. But it was all UNLV thereafter as the Rebels stormed back behind quarterback Armani Rogers (218 yards, five touchdowns accounted for) to pull off the largest comeback in the rivalry's history, which was capped when Javin White intercepted Ty Gangi with 1:19 remaining and Nevada in UNLV territory to seal the Rebels' 34-29 win.

8. 2012 (Combs the comeback king): An unlikely figure (backup quarterback, Devin Combs) captained the largest comeback in rivalry history prior to the 2019 game. Combs, playing for an injured Cody Fajardo, dug Nevada out of a 21-0 hole at Sam Boyd Stadium, accounting for 278 yards and three scores as Nevada went on a 35-3 run midway through the game. Another backup (LB Dray Bell) snared an interception that led to Nevada's go-ahead score in the 42-37 victory.

9. 2009 (Ball has a ball): Las Vegas native Mike Ball, a running back for Nevada, rushed for 184 yards and five touchdowns on 15 carries to power Nevada to a 63-28 victory, a game that very well might have cost UNLV coach Mike Sanford his job. Nevada turned the ball over four times, but still posted a single-game rivalry game record of 63 points. The Wolf Pack rushed for 559 yards and seven touchdowns.

10. 1976 (Can't stop Carano): Ault's first Nevada-UNLV game as the Wolf Pack head coach didn't go well. UNLV's Glenn Carano, who starred at Wooster High in Reno before Ault recruited him to Vegas while a Rebel assistant, put on a show, passing for four touchdowns and rushing for two more in one of the greatest individual games in the rivalry series as UNLV won, 49-33. (Nevada QB Chris Vargas had the best game in the series' history, completing 30-of-39 passes for 538 yards and seven TDs in a 49-14 win in 1993).

11. 1970 (The Cannon is born): The series began in 1969, but the Fremont Cannon wasn't given out until a year later. UNLV beat Nevada in that game, 42-30, in its season finale, which also was the Rebels' homecoming game. That means the first coat of paint on the Fremont Cannon was the color red. Sorry, Pack fans.

12. 2017 (Nevada denies UNLV a bowl): Jay Norvell's introduction to the rivalry ended well for Nevada, which entered the 2017 game 2-9 but ended it with a 23-17 victory that denied a 5-6 UNLV team a bowl berth, which was the closest Tony Sanchez ever got to the postseason. Kelton Moore scored the go-ahead 1-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter before Nevada stopped UNLV on fourth-and-2 from the Wolf Pack 22 with 1:14 left to seal the win.

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