RENO - Five years of frustration is over. The Fremont Cannon is coming back to Northern Nevada.
Thanks to a stingy defense that allowed only one score over the final 58 minutes, three field goals by Brett Jaekle and the efficiency of quarterback Jeff Rowe, Nevada outlasted arch rival UNLV 22-14 before 23,457 fans at Mackay Stadium Saturday night.
The win was the first for Nevada since 1999. As the final gun went off, the Nevada players made a beeline for the northwest corner of the end zone where the cannon was, and walked it in front of the rooting section to the delight of the partisan crowd.
"I just wanted to see it (the cannon) up close," said Rowe, who beat the Rebels for the first time in his career. "The last couple of years I didn't see it except from across the field. I never liked red."
"I'm on Cloud 9 right now," running back B.J. Mitchell said. "I can't put it into words. It's back where it belongs. We'll paint it blue as soon as we can."
This wasn't the cleanest of games. UNLV turned the ball over three times and Nevada turned it over twice, the final one coming late in the fourth quarter which led to the Rebels' final TD.
It was a game that belonged to the defense which forced the aformentioned three turnovers and sacked UNLV quarterback Shane Steichen four times.
"The defense from last week to this week is the best turnaround I think I have ever seen," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "The defense got after them. The spread offense is hard to defend. The tenacity we showed. We really mixed up the defensive calls. We didn't back off and came up with plays."
The Rebels managed only 243 yards total offense, 205 rushing and 38 passing (7 for 25). The latter stat disturbed UNLV coach Mike Sanford.
"We were ineffective in our passing game," he said. "We didn't handle blitz situations and we turned the ball over. We didn't do what we said we needed to do. We turned the ball over. Give credit to the team we played. They did a nice job."
Perhaps one of the biggest plays of the game came in the fourth quarter when free safety Nick Hawthrone intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards down to the UNLV 34, which set up Robert Hubbard's second 1-yard TD run of the game. Jaekle's extra point made it 22-7 with 2:33 left in the contest.
"I tried to bait him into one before and he overthrew me and the receiver," Hawthrone said. "He left it too high and I was able to make the play."
The Pack appeared to be safe until Kevin Stanley fumbled a punt that Joe Miklos fell on at the Nevada 28. Steichen threw a 16-yard scoring pass to Greg Estandia on a fourth-and-12 play. Sergio Aguayo's PAT made it 22-14 with 51 seconds left.
UNLV tried an onsides kick, and Caleb Spencer, who caught 12 balls for 144 yards, covered it up, enabling the Pack to run out the clock.
"It was a good effort," Ault said. "We didn't give up in adverse situations."
Nevada took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 13 plays with Robert Hubbard crashing over from the 1 for the score to make it 6-0.
The Pack moved the ball so well they only had to convert two third-down plays on the drive, and Rowe converted both with passes to Spencer. The first was a 6-yard pass on a third-and-3 play for a first down at the UNLV 20. After an incomplete pass and a 3-yard run by B.J. Mitchell, Rowe hooked up with Spencer in the left flat for 14 yards and a first down at the 3. Hubbard scored two plays later.
The Pack put together another impressive drive on their next possession, holding the ball for nearly five minutes.
Nevada converted its fourth straight third-down opportunity when Rowe and Nichiren Flowers hooked up for a 20-yard gain to the UNLV 48. The Pack made it 5-for-5 when Rowe completed a 15-yard pass to Spencer down to the 15. Rowe and Spencer hooked up for another eight yards down to the 7. An incomplete pass by Rowe and a no gain by Rowe forced the Pack to go for a field goal, and Jaekle kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 9-0 with 3:12 left.
The Rebels seemed to be giving Spencer too much respect. The corners were 10 to 12 yards off the ball most of the time, allowing Nevada to complete passes underneath.
"I don't think it was 10 to 12 yards," Sanford said. "We were soft on Spencer."
The Rebels bounced back on their next possession, as Steichen broke loose for a 70-yard scoring run on the third play of the drive. It was his second rushing TD of the season, following in the footsteps of his 51-yard run against Idaho last week. Aguayo's PAT made it 9-7.
Nevada coughed up the ball moments later, as Hubbard fumbled at the 28 and Ernest Gordon returned it 8 yards to the 19.
UNLV scored on two different plays, but both times were hit with penalties. When the drive ended, the Rebels had a minus-23 yards to show for their efforts and ended up punting the ball away.
"That was one of the worst (possessions) I've ever been around," Sanford said. "We had a chance to get to 14 points."
The Pack, which piled up 265 first-half yards, drove down to the UNLV 28 on its last drive of the half. They came up empty when Jaekle's 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Estandia.
Nevada had a chance to extend its lead when Craig Bailey recovered a Steichen fumble at the UNLV 23.
Two carries by Mitchell netted a first down at the 13, and after Rowe was stopped for no gain, the lanky Pack quarterback scrambled around and finally threw an 11-yard pass to tight end Anthony Pudewell for a first down at the 2. The drive bogged down, and Jaekle shanked a 19-yarder to the left.
Jaekle redeemed himself several minutes later with a 26-yarder to make it 12-7 after Nevada's defense stopped Steichen for a 1-yard loss at the Nevada 46. The Pack drove down to the 3 before bogging down in the red zone once again.
"The offense had some opportunities that they missed," Ault said. "They had some chances to put the game away. We didn't play sound football (in the red zone). It wasn't the "Pistol." It was poor execution on our part."
The Rebels threatened to take the lead on their next possession when H-back Tremayne Kirkland took a direct snap from center and sprinted 47 yards down to the Pack's 15-yard line. Two plays later, a blitzing Joey Garcia knocked the ball loose from Steichen and Erics Clark recovered at the Nevada 18. It was Steichen's second fumble of the night.
Jaekle kicked a 22-yard field goal with 8:09 left to make it 15-7.
Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281