The Nevada football team was on the wrong side of history Saturday night.
After opening its game against UNLV with a 23-0 lead, Nevada fumbled away a rivalry series win as the Rebels rallied to take a 34-29 victory at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. After the game, coach Jay Norvell made his team watch the opposition's celebration.
"We take a lot of pride in having the cannon," Norvell said. "I think it’s important they see it and they remember that moment. It’s supposed to hurt."
Armani Rogers, the game's MVP, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 3-yard run with 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining. After Nevada got a stop on a 2-point conversion, the Wolf Pack had the ball with a little more than 2 minutes to play with a chance to win the game.
But after crossing midfield, Ty Gangi was picked off for the third time and UNLV knelt out the remainder of the clock to steal the Fremont Cannon, which Nevada had held the past two seasons. Gangi finished 27-of-45 for 295 yards and two touchdowns, but UNLV cashed in two of his interceptions for touchdowns, including the go-ahead score, before the game-sealing pick.
"We just couldn't get the ball over the flat defender," Norvell said of the final interception. "We wanted to take our timeouts there to see if we could give ourselves enough time there at the end to mount a drive and to go score and we were able to do that, but we just couldn't execute down there. They were dropping everybody and Ty just couldn't get the ball over that guy. The fourth-quarter turnovers were tough. We had a chance to go down there and score and really pad our lead and we turned over it again down there.
"Those fourth-quarter turnovers were really tough. We didn't really play well enough defensively in the second half or offensively. The bottom line is you have to respond when the game's on the line and we didn't make the critical plays to do that tonight."
The 23-point comeback is the largest in UNLV history and the largest in this series, topping the previous best of a 21-point comeback by Nevada in 2012. Rogers, returning from a foot injury that cost him much of the season, was subbed out for two series in the first quarter, but he played one of the best games of his career. The sophomore completed 13-of-20 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 46 yards and two more scores, accounting for all five of the Rebels' touchdowns.
"Heck of a win," UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. "Really proud of our guys. They've been through a lot. It's been a bunch of weeks since I've been able to sit next to this young man (Rogers). You saw the impact he had on the game. He's a special guy. He came in there and played tremendous and gave us the opportunity to win this game."
The win was UNLV's first over Nevada in Las Vegas since 2004, breaking a streak of six straight Wolf Pack road victories in the series. The loss also snapped Nevada's four-game winning streak, the team's longest under Norvell, who debuted in the Fremont Cannon series with a 23-16 home win last season.
The Wolf Pack ended the regular season 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the MW and will now head to a bowl game. UNLV ended its sour season on a high note, winning two of its final three games to cap the year 4-8 and 2-6 in the MW. The game likely secured Tony Sanchez's return for a fifth season at the helm of the Rebels.