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Nevada dominates UNLV 51-20, keeps Fremont Cannon blue

NCAA Football: Nevada at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official: The Fremont Cannon will remain blue for another year!

The Nevada Wolf Pack cruised to a 51-20 victory over the UNLV Rebels Friday evening in Mackay Stadium’s first sell out since 2015. Its 31-point margin-of-victory was the largest in a Nevada-UNLV game since Nevada’s 45-10 victory on Nov. 26, 2016.

Though the Pack entered 14-9 all-time at home against UNLV, they dropped three of their four previous meetings to its longtime intrastate rival in Reno, Nev.

Recent history didn’t repeat itself on Friday.

The Pack out-gained UNLV 438-293 with four more first downs (25-to-21).

Nevada signal caller Carson Strong completed 37-of-49 for 417 yards and four touchdowns to just one interception. It was his second consecutive 400-yard, four-touchdown outing.

The Pack had a rough night running the ball. Their three tailbacks — Toa Taua, Devonte Lee and Avery Morrow — generated just 27 yards on 15 combined carries.

Cole Turner had seven catches for 63 yards, recording his third multi-touchdown (2) game in four weeks. He’s totaled 27 receptions for 343 yards and four touchdowns over the last three weeks.

Melquan Stovall posted team-highs in receptions (9) and yards (90). Tory Horton finished with five catches for 54 yards and a score. After tying the program record in receptions (19) last weekend, Romeo Doubs tallied four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown.

Nine Pack receivers caught passes with all but one catching multiple.

UNLV’s Cameron Friel, a true freshman, went 27-for-41 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. It was his first multi-touchdown performance.

Nevada, who was T-3 in the FBS in sacks (28.0), sacked Friel five times, the fourth time in its last five games where it’s had at least five sacks. Tristan Nichols, who was T-2 in the FBS in sacks with eight, posted a team-high 1.5 sacks Friday.

Kameron Toomer, Daniel Grzesiak and Amir Johnson all pitched in with one apiece, while two-time All-Conference defensive lineman Dom Peterson had a 0.5 sack.

“We felt like we could get to [Friel],” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said postgame. “All the guys up front were relentless. When you keep rushing that guy like that, you’re eventually going to get to him.

“[Friel]’s a young kid. I give him a lot of credit. He’s tough, but our guys are pretty dominant when we get after him like that.”

Two of Friel’s interceptions were pick-sixes: Nevada safety Tyson Williams took one 49 yards to the house in the third quarter and linebacker Daiyan Henley took the other 50 yards to the house in the fourth, nearly losing his balance.

“I loved the pick-sixes,” Norvell said. “Those were huge, and [JoJo Claiborne]’s interception was big time in the first half. A lot of big defensive plays and we can really build on that.”

Charles Williams, who entered second in the Mountain West in rushing yards (714) and third in rushing touchdowns (7), finished with a season-low 30 yards on 1.8 yards per attempt with a touchdown.

It was Williams’ lowest rushing total since he had 24 yards (on nine carries) in a 45-14 loss to Wyoming on Nov. 27, 2020.

Steve Jenkins hauled-in a career-high 12 receptions — doubling his previous career-high of six — for 133 yards and a touchdown. His 133 yards marked a season high and was the most since totaling 140 at Mackay in 2019.

No other Rebel receiver had more than five catches on Friday.

Kyle Williams had five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown, while Marcus Phillips Jr. added four receptions for 26 yards.

Nevada improves to 6-2 and 3-1 in Mountain West play. UNLV is winless in eight games, including four conference games.

“This was a great momentum builder for us,” Norvell said. “We need this going into November. This is the fun part of the year. These next four games are going to be so important.”

After a 44-yard flea flicker on the opening play, Turner’s four-yard touchdown reception capped-off Nevada’s five-play, 73-yard opening drive that lasted 2:05.

“We were practicing it all week,” Strong said after the game when asked about the opening play. “It was really meant for [Doubs] on a post route and so I was looking for him first.

“I was going to throw it as far as I could,” Strong said with a smirk on his face. “The safety guarded Romeo so then I saw [Justin Lockhart] on the crossing route ... It was a great way to start the game.”

The Wolf Pack couldn’t replicate a similar result on their second drive. Nevada placekicker Brandon Talton made it 10-0 with a season-long 52-yard field goal. The junior’s 52-yarder was the second-longest of his collegiate career.

Doubs’ excellent punt return gave the Wolf Pack very favorable field position on UNLV’s 32-yard line to begin its third drive. Despite 10 plays — including six (!) goal-to-go tries — it couldn’t convert for six. Talton’s 23-yard field goal extended it to 13-0.

The quick, ultra-aggressive Wolf Pack defensive front got out to a blistering start. UNLV’s first 12 plays resulted in minus-five yards — including two sacks — with one first down surrendered.

Strong’s 28-yard touchdown connection widened it to 20-0 in the blink of an eye. The Pack were in the hunt for their fifth score of the half, though Rebel defensive back Phillip Hill had other ideas — intercepting Strong and returning it near midfield with just over a minute to go in the half.

UNLV’s best drive of the first half came on its last possession, though it resulted in safety JoJo Claiborne picking off Friel at the goal line with a few ticks remaining.

Nevada entered the break with 245 yards and 14 first downs. UNLV had 50 — 32 of which were gained on its final drive — with four first downs.

On the second play exiting halftime, Nevada safety Tyson Williams took an interception 49 yards to the house. It marked Williams’ fourth career interception, but the first pick-six of his career and Nevada’s second of 2021.

Turner dazzled the the stadium with a one-handed 23-yard touchdown grab — extending Nevada’s lead to 34-0 with 6:58 left in the quarter. UNLV’s first score came on its ensuing drive: A 23-yard touchdown to a wide-open Kyle Williams.

“This is such a tough and competitive game,” Norvell said. “We were really rolling for a while and not giving them anything. So I think [the defense] was upset that we gave them a little life, but they responded.”

The Pack countered mere moments later. Strong connected with Tory Horton for a 31-yard touchdown — his fourth touchdown pass of the night — making it 41-7 with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter.

Charles Williams found the endzone from four yards out. UNLV recovered the ensuing onside kick, following with an 18-yard score touchdown to Steve Jenkins soon thereafter. The lead stood at 41-20 after UNLV failed to convert its two-point conversion.

Talton’s 22-yard field goal — followed by Henley’s pick-six increased it 51-20 with 4:34 to go. Those ultimately were the final two scores of the game. UNLV failed to convert a fourth-and-11 in plus territory with under a minute to go, thwarting any chance at another score.

Next up: Nevada hosts San Jose State on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. PT on Fox Sports 2.