Wolf Pack look to return with ‘Cannon’
Special to The R-C
The Nevada Wolf Pack hopes to return an old friend to Northern Nevada on Saturday.
“Everybody in the community keeps telling us, ‘Make sure you go get it,’” Wolf Pack defensive end Malik Reed said this week. “Everybody wants it back.”
The Wolf Pack will meet the UNLV Rebels on Saturday afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, with the winner claiming the Fremont Cannon for a year. The heaviest (500-plus pounds) and most expensive ($10,000 to build in 1970) rivalry trophy in college football has been down in Las Vegas for the past year and wearing a coat of UNLV Rebel red paint thanks to UNLV’s 23-17 win at Mackay Stadium last year.
“It’s an empty feeling,” Reed said. “It just feels like something is missing. It’s something we want back.”
The Wolf Pack, who lead the Silver State series 24-17, won the cannon eight years in a row from 2005-12 but UNLV has won it twice in the last three years.
“They had kind of gotten used to having it as part of their furniture,” Rebel coach Tony Sanchez said. “It’s great to have it here painted red.”
“When I first got here I saw this vacant spot on the floor and I asked someone, “What’s that wooden (platform) over there for,’” Rebel senior center Will Kreitler said. “They told me, ‘Oh, that’s where the cannon is supposed to be.’ Now that it’s here I hope it never leaves.”
UNLV hasn’t won the cannon two years in a row since 2000-04.
“I would like to get some blue paint stains on my jeans again this Sunday,” Pack coach Brian Polian said.
The Wolf Pack players are using last year’s UNLV game as motivation this week.
“It hurts,” offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. “I’ve been part of that (losing the cannon) twice now. We are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Wolf Pack and Rebels enter this final regular season game with identical 4-7 overall records. UNLV is 3-4 in Mountain West play while the Pack is 2-5. The winner will finish third in the West Division of the Mountain West.
The Rebels are led by running backs Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams and quarterback Kurt Palendech. Williams has 715 yards and three touchdowns while Thomas has 632 yards and eight scores. Palendech, the Rebels’ third starting quarterback this season after Johnny Stanton and Dalton Sneed, has passed for 526 yards and five touchdowns and run for 261 yards.
“We feel very comfortable with (Palendech’s) intellect running our offense,” said Sanchez, who won six state titles in six years as Bishop Gorman’s head coach from 2009-14. “He’s the right guy for us right now.”
Palendech has started the last two games. He was 20-of-32 for 252 yards and three touchdowns against Wyoming in his first start on Nov. 12 but was just 10-of-20 for 113 yards and one score against Boise State last week. He did, however, run for 64 yards and two touchdowns against Boise.
“He’s a capable thrower,” Polian said of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Palendech. “But he’s dynamic with his feet. He’s absolutely a running threat.”
The Wolf Pack are led on offense by running back James Butler (1,140 yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Ty Gangi (1,108 yards, seven touchdowns). UNLV is led on defense by linebacker Tau Lotulelei, who has 107 tackles (15.5 for a loss), and linebacker Ryan McAleenan, who has 79 tackles and returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown last season against the Wolf Pack.
“These are two football teams that rely on running the football,” Sanchez said. “We just have to do a better job of defending the passing game than they do.”
“I have no doubt that they (UNLV) will be dedicated to stopping the run,” Polian said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that we will have to make some plays in the passing game.”
This game is the likely end of the season for both teams unless the NCAA invites some five-win teams for bowls like it did a year ago when it took Minnesota, Nebraska and the Mountain West’s San Jose State.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Reed said. “We have to win this game for that (a bowl with five wins) to even be a possibility so all I’m thinking about is this game.”
“This is big,” Sanchez said. “It’s on our walls. ‘Beat Reno.’”
The fact that Sanchez and the Rebels continue to refer to the Wolf Pack as “Reno” adds to the rivalry. The UNLV athletic department also continues to refer to the Wolf Pack as either “UNR” or “Nevada, Reno” while the Wolf Pack prefer to be called the University of Nevada.
“I have no control over what other people call us,” Polian said. “They can say what they want. We are the University of Nevada and we have been here forever.”
“We are Nevada,” said Wolf Pack wide receiver Hasaan Henderson, who graduated from Las Vegas High. “We are Battle Born and Battle Ready. When you hear people say UNR, deep down it feels like you are being disrespected. But people up here know we are Nevada.”
“We have the more passionate community,” Rufus said.
“We’re the football school,” Reed said.