Less than two months ago, the UNLV soccer team was tied 4-1.
The Rebels had just rushed back from a 17-9 deficit to beat New Mexico, second quarterback Doug Brumfield seemed to be the answer to UNLV fans’ prayers for consistent quarterback play, and the defense forced turnovers and set opposing signal callers under pressure with ease.
UNLV was also 2-0 at Mountain West. Discussions about a potential spot in a conference championship game or even an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s LA Bowl didn’t seem far-fetched. Worst-case scenario, bowl eligibility seemed more than possible for the first time since 2013. After all, the Rebels only had to win two of their remaining seven games.
In the last two months, however, UNLV’s dream season has fallen off a cliff.
Brumfield suffered a concussion and an ankle injury that essentially cost him three games as the Rebels entered their most difficult period of the schedule and began a steep six-game losing streak.
UNLV’s slump culminated in a dull 31-25 loss to Hawaii, a team that went into the game with two wins all season, in Honolulu on Saturday.
“We were outplayed,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo told reporters after the game.
UNLV’s bowl drought will continue for at least another season. The progress the Rebels (4-7, 2-5 Mountain West) seemed to be making is now starred. Arroyo lamented a lack of focus and commitment from his team after the loss to Hawaii (3-9, 2-5), but also admitted he is responsible for the product the Rebels have brought to the pitch.
“We have to do a better job,” he said. “We have to do a much better job.”
The Rebels led 13-7 at halftime, but the Rainbow Warriors took a 24-16 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Rebels forced two late turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown, but failed to complete the comeback.
Ahead of the season, UNLV fans may have been heartened by a four-win season after Arroyo won two games in his first two seasons — one amid the truncated 2020 COVID-19 campaign.
UNLV must now be wondering what it has left on the table this season. Four turnovers ended the tournament in a 14-10 loss to San Diego State. The defense was unable to force a punt and UNLV settled for five field goals in a 37-30 loss to Fresno State. A touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against California would have given UNLV a program-boosting win over a power-five team.
After the Nov. 11 loss at Fresno State, Arroyo said he didn’t think the entire season should be judged by the last two games.
“It’s a lot bigger than those two games,” he said at the time. “Those two games are great but I think you have to look back at the whole thing and say, have we improved? How was our culture? Where can we win, where can we improve? Where did we fall short?
“But it’s a much bigger picture than two games.”
Now there is only one game left – Saturday’s Battle of the Fremont Cannon against UNR, who have one of their worst teams in recent memory. The Rebels are big favorites when it comes to five wins.
But after a 4-1 start, this season seemed to offer hope for more.