The Fremont Cannon is coming back home to northern Nevada.
The Nevada Wolf Pack ran the UNLV Rebels into the ground Saturday night 49-27 in front of a crowd of 20, 151 at Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium, rushing for 408 yards and scoring 42 points off four turnovers along the way. The Pack took home the Fremont Cannon as its reward in its rivalry game for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.
“It’s a big deal to get the cannon back,” Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian said.
Polian lost the cannon in his first season as Nevada head coach last year and is now 1-1 in the Silver State rivalry game and 11-13 overall.
“This cannon means a lot to the people in the northern part of the state,” said Polian, whose Wolf Pack is now 7-5 with a likely bowl invitation coming this week. “It ate me up for a year that in my first year we lost it and it was painted red.”
All of the eating during the game was performed by the Wolf Pack running attack. Three Wolf Pack players — running backs Don Jackson and James Butler and quarterback Cody Fajardo — went over 100 yards rushing in the game as the Wolf Pack dominated the struggling Rebel defense. UNLV did take a 17-7 lead early in the second half but the Wolf Pack never panicked and proceeded to obliterate the Rebels the rest of the game.
“Those running backs ran their butts off,” Polian said. “To have three guys go over a hundred, that’s a special deal.”
Fajardo completed just 5-of-13 passes for 46 yards in the game but three of those passes went for touchdowns. The Rebels, which finished the year 2-11, also played the gracious hosts, turning the ball over four times on three interceptions and a fumble.
“To run it the way we ran it, that showed we were tough guys tonight,” Polian said, “physically and mentally.”
UNLV’s mistakes started on their first drive as Wolf Pack cornerback Charles Garrett picked off a pass from Rebel quarterback Blake Decker in the end zone to end a nine-play drive. The Pack took advantage of Garrett’s big play, marching seven plays and 80 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Jackson ran the ball four times for 30 yards on the drive and Fajardo did the honors, scoring from 25 yards out. A pass interference penalty on UNLV’s Kenneth Perry on a 3rd-and-7 play from the Wolf Pack 23 also didn’t hurt the Pack.
The Rebels, playing their final game under coach Bobby Hauck, who resigned 24 hours before the game, then scored 17 unanswered points. Decker found wide receiver Devante Davis for a 3-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Fajardo was then picked off by UNLV’s Tajh Hasson to set up the Rebels second score, a 24-yard Decker-to-Devonte Boyd touchdown pass. The Rebels also added a field goal with 7:31 to go in the second quarter to take a 17-7 lead.
Blowing big leads in the Fremont Cannon game, though, is not foreign for the Rebels. UNLV had leads of 21-0 and 28-7 two years ago in Las Vegas only to lose 42-37.
It happened again on Saturday night.
The Wolf Pack scored a key touchdown late in the second quarter to change the momentum. Fajardo connected with wide receiver Richy Turner for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:31 before the half to cut the Rebel lead to just 17-14. A 13-yard punt return by Turner set up the 52-yard drive. The Pack also went for a first down on a key 4th-and-2 play from the UNLV 44 and made it on a 2-yard run by Butler.
The Wolf Pack then owned the second half as UNLV made mistake after mistake.
Fajardo found wide receiver Jerico Richardson on a 12-yard scoring strike as the Pack grabbed a 21-17 lead on its first drive of the second half. Fajardo erupted for a 33-yard gain on one run and also picked up 13 on another to keep the 87-yard drive going.
UNLV’s Jonathan Leiva did kick another field goal to cut the Pack lead to 21-20 but the scoring drive was sort of a moral victory for the Wolf Pack. The Rebels had a first down at the Wolf Pack 6-yard line and had to settle for three points as Wolf Pack linebacker Bryan Lane made a key stop on a Rebel pass on second down. UNLV’s Shaquille Murray-Lawrence exploded for a 23-yard gain during the drive but the Rebels abandoned the run on second and third down once they got inside the Pack 10-yard line.
The Wolf Pack then scored 28 unanswered points and seemingly started to stir cans of blue paint that awaited the cannon upon its arrival in northern Nevada early Sunday morning.
Butler exploded for a 59-yard run to give the Pack a first down at the UNLV 3-yard line. Fajardo then found Kendall Brock on a 3-yard scoring pass as the Pack took a 28-20 lead with five minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Pack then had some fun on both sides of the ball.
Wolf Pack defensive end Lenny Jones intercepted a Decker pass and returned it 32 yards for a score as the Pack took control of the game, 35-20, with 4:15 to play in the third quarter. The Wolf Pack fun continued on the Rebels next drive as Pack defensive back Nigel Haikins stepped in front of another errant Decker pass in the end zone for the Pack’s third interception.
“The big thing, obviously, is the turnovers,” said Hauck, who was 15-49 as Rebels head coach the last five years. “It was a heck of a game until we threw the ball to them a couple times.”
The Wolf Pack then, seemingly, couldn’t do any wrong. UNLV’s Tau Lotuleilei forced a Wolf Pack fumble at the Rebel 4-yard line but Richardson picked it up and carried it the four yards into the end zone for a Pack score and a 42-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. Wolf Pack backup quarterback Devin Combs then added the Wolf Pack’s final sore of the game on a 5-yard run with 6:51 to play. It was Combs who engineered the 21-point comeback two years ago at Sam Boyd Stadium as Fajardo missed the game with an injury.
Fajardo finished with 143 yards rushing, Jackson ended up with 132 and Butler had 116. Murray-Lawrence finished with 135 yards rushing as four rushers in the game went over 100 yards. Decker was 21-of-39 through the air for 171 yards and two scores but three interceptions helped turn the cannon a nice shade of Wolf Pack blue.
The Pack didn’t play a flawless game as the officials called them on 11 penalties, nine in the second half. The Wolf Pack also was just 3-of-11 on third down. The Wolf Pack defense, though, played a huge part in the victory, holding the Rebels to just a 2-of-13 success rate on third down and forcing four turnovers. The Wolf Pack also controlled the ball on offense for 33:39.
The Wolf Pack owned the game in the second half, outgaining UNLV 362-282 in the second 30 minutes after gaining just 92 yards in the first half. The Wolf Pack also ran for 347 yards in the second half as Fajardo was just 2-of-5 through the air.
“We talked at length (at halftime) about keeping our poise and no self-inflicted wounds,” Polian said. “They came out in the second half and showed mental toughness.”