After UNLV got a big win in brutally cold conditions to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2000, Rebels coach Bobby Hauck was in a jovial mood.
Article continues below ...
"I told the guys, `Hell must have just frozen over, because the Rebels are bowl eligible,’" Hauck said.
Tim Cornett rushed for a career-high 220 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries, leading UNLV to a 41-21 victory over Air Force on Thursday night.
Temperatures in the single digits, a wind chill below zero and a snow-covered field didn’t slow Cornett, UNLV’s all-time leading rusher. He crossed the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season while notching his 16th career 100-yard game.
"The offensive line and I came in with a plan that we just weren’t going to be stopped," said Cornett, who now has 35 career touchdowns rushing. "We saw some holes on film that schematically they had problems with, so we just wanted to expose those and go after them. The bowl game was right there in reach, and we had to come out here and get it."
The Rebels (6-5, 4-3 Mountain West) defeated the Falcons (2-9, 0-7) for the second consecutive year, their first back-to-back wins over Air Force since 2000-01.
"It’s good stuff man," said Hauck, who is in the fourth season at UNLV. "I’ve done this for a while and have had the chance to coach in bowl games, and I’m just really excited for our kids that they’re going to get to experience that. It’s achievable because we’ve got a good football team, and they went out there and got it."
Air Force cut the Rebels’ lead to 33-21 with 5:18 remaining in the third, but Cornett’s 46-yard touchdown run with 2:03 left in the fourth put the game out of reach. The Falcons have now lost nine games for the first time since 1980.
"They were the better football team tonight," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "We just don’t get it yet when it comes to performing as a football team. We had some guys tonight who didn’t play like they’re capable of playing.
"Congratulations to UNLV. They earned the opportunity to be a bowl team."
UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring added first-quarter touchdown runs of 1 yard and 6 yards to help the Rebels build a 27-0 lead. Devante Davis had six catches for 75 yards to become just the seventh Rebels receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a single season.
"It’s exciting, and I couldn’t be happier with my teammates," Herring said. "We’re all super excited about being eligible for a bowl game. It was like somebody turned the heater on once the game was decided and the weather wasn’t even a factor anymore."
Anthony LaCoste led Air Force with 75 yards on 15 carries and became the 41st player in team history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in his career.
The Rebels racked up a season-high 330 yards rushing and capitalized on a pair of early Air Force miscues. A blocked punt and fumble recovery in the first quarter set up UNLV touchdowns.
Just about the only thing holding UNLV back was its kicking game. Alex Hanson blocked a pair of Nolan Kohorst’s extra-point attempts in the first half, and Kohorst missed a 29-yard field goal with 8:59 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons took the ensuing drive and marched 80 yards in 10 plays to cut UNLV’s lead to 33-21 on a 1-yard touchdown run by D.J. Johnson.
The Rebels had a chance to add to their lead early in the fourth, but Shaquille Murray-Lawrence fumbled on third-and-goal from the 1 and Air Force’s Donnie Wharton recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
It was all UNLV early on. Trent Langham blocked David Baska’s punt attempt after Air Force’s opening drive stalled 2:29 into the game, and the Rebels’ David Greene returned the ball to the Falcons’ 30-yard line.
Cornett scored from 22 yards out two plays later, and UNLV led 6-0. The Rebels turned favorable field position into another first-quarter score with 4:29 remaining on Herring’s 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Air Force continued to be its own worst enemy in the opening quarter. Running back Jon Lee couldn’t handle a high pitch from quarterback Nate Romine on an option off right tackle and UNLV’s Tim Hasson recovered the ball on the Falcons 48.
Herring made it 20-0 Rebels four plays later on a diving touchdown run with 1:47 remaining, and Cornett’s 7-yard touchdown run with 9:47 left in the second quarter gave UNLV a 27-0 lead. UNLV’s three first-quarter scoring drives took a total of 3:59.
Air Force finally got on the scoreboard with 8:59 remaining in the first half when Romine hit Alex Ludowig for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Broam Hart added a 1-yard touchdown run for the Falcons with 8 seconds remaining in the first half, and UNLV led 33-14 at the break.