RENO—For the second time in three years, the Fremont Cannon will be red.
Trailing 13-10 with 10 minutes left Saturday night at Mackay Stadium, Nevada had the chance to take its first lead of the night against its in-state rival from Las Vegas.
Instead, the chance turned into booked trip for The Cannon back to Sin City as the Wolf Pack went on to fall 23-17 in front of 29,951—the ninth-largest crowd in Mackay Stadium history.
“Obviously we’re incredibly disappointed right now,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “The team is in a lot of pain, as am I … I can assure you nobody in our community is hurting more than our team is right now. Our guys incredibly disappointed.”
With the ball at midfield, Nevada junior quarterback Tyler Stewart’s pass into the right flat was tipped at the line and directed into the lap of UNLV senior linebacker Ryan McAleenan who won a 52-yard race to the pylon. The pick-6 put the Rebels up 10, and out of reach.
Nevada’s offense quickly responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive, capped with a 1-yard Jackson run, to sneak back within three with 4:50 to play. An ensuing UNLV three-and-out set the Pack up at its own 26 with 3:21 left and another chance to tie or take the lead.
Stewart’s fourth-down pass hit Kameron Richardson between the 8 and 9 on his jersey at the sideline but Richardson, who does not have a reception this year, flat dropped the pass.
“We hit our receiver wide open in the chest , we gotta make plays,” Polian said. “You just have to make plays.”
UNLV kicker Kicolai Bornand hit from 45 yards out after the turnover on downs and the Pack’s last-minute attempt at a game-winning touchdown stalled at the UNLV 43-yard line in the middle of a deluge.
Nevada had owned the series with UNLV, winning nine of the last 10 contests, but has dropped two of the last three with both losses coming at home. The Rebels won 27-22 at Mackay in 2013.
“Everybody’s crushed man,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s crushed.”
The offensive blunders in the final minutes underlined an ugly offensive game throughout. The Wolf Pack and Rebels punted a combined 15 times. Nevada was 6-of-16 on third down. UNLV was 4-of-13.
Nevada had a chance to win the game late despite a forgettable first half of offensive football. With miserable average starting position, the Wolf Pack mustered just 102 yards of offense (finished with 343 yards on 79 plays) before the break.
Still, the Pack trailed just 7-0 before allowing a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the second quarter.
UNLV backup quarterback Kurt Palandech stepped in for starter Blake Decker (shoulder injury) and dove across the pylon from 12 yards out. The touchdown on the designed run came one play after Palandech hit Kendal Keys for 25 yards down the sideline to convert a third and nine on his first pass attempt of the day.
“The touchdown was very frustrating because I felt like had we gotten off the field, or extended a drive just to keep possession, if you go in at 7-0 at half with all the penalties and all the field positions blows, ‘okay, it couldn’t be much worse and here we are at 7-0,’” Polian said.
The point after try was no good, leaving the Rebels lead at 13-0.
With barely 100 yards of offense in the first half, Polian opted to take a knee as the Wolf Pack left the field to a chorus of boos.
Seven-straight punts and a Dameon Baber interception (his third in two games) at the goal line were sandwiched between the late touchdown and a UNLV score on its first drive of the day.
Keith Whitely busted a 37-yard touchdown run to cap an 11-play, 81-yard drive that put the guests up 7-0 with 8:58 to play in the first quarter.
Nevada fell to 2-3, 0-1 in the Mountain West with the loss. UNLV, led by former Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez, improved to 2-3, 1-0.
The Wolf Pack hosts New Mexico next Saturday at 4 p.m.
“We still have a lot of football left,” Polian said. “We can’t let UNLV beat us twice.”