Marcus Arroyo accomplished another first in his UNLV coaching tenure and first in Rebel football history.
UNLV won its first game at its new home, Allegiant Stadium. The Rebels won their second straight game, for the first time since Nov. 23 and 30 2019, defeating the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 27-13 in the Battle of the Ninth Island and bringing home the Golden Pineapple.
“It’s fantastic to stack another win,” Arroyo said after the win. “That’s the thing I talked about last week with these guys is good teams stack wins, you continuously go and stack good games. We’ve stacked some good games this season, they haven’t gone our way, but the consistency, resilience, toughness, the way they work… to play consistent football and battle, it says a lot about our group.”
It wasn’t pretty, in fact, Arroyo said with a straight face that they “won ugly.” UNLV gave up a 79-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. And UNLV QB Cameron Friel had three first quarter turnovers.
But despite the early game struggles, UNLV did not appear phased. The Rebels capitalized on a Hawaii missed field goal. Friel connected with WR Steve Jenkins on a 49-yard pass to provide a spark for the Rebels.
Just a few plays later, RB Charles Williams ran right up the middle from five yards out, tying the game at 7-7. Both teams traded field goals in the second quarter and went into halftime tied 10-10.
Williams, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher against New Mexico, had plenty more in the tank against Hawaii. On the Rebels’ first drive of the second half, Williams had a 64-yard run that set UNLV up nicely deep in Hawaii territory. Williams rushed it in from seven yards out on first and goal to give UNLV a 17-10 lead.
UNLV held the lead through the rest of the third quarter and into the fourth. Hawaii, now trailing 20-13, had the ball back with under four minutes remaining after blocking a Daniel Gutierrez field goal. On fourth down, linebacker Kyle Beaudry made the game-winning tackle, stopping Hawaii short on fourth down and giving UNLV the ball back with just over two minutes remaining.
Williams put an exclamation point on the victory by taking the handoff on the first play of the following drive and running for a 47-yard touchdown, sealing the game for the Rebels, 27-13. Just like many of its games this season, UNLV had to overcome adversity and against Hawaii, they did not break.
“The thing behind the stat line I’m most proud of is the resilience of this group when things weren’t perfect,” Arroyo said. “We’re turning the ball over, we’re playing ugly, we won ugly, there’s a lot to come from that. There’s a lot of good things that happen in a culture and a program when you find out you can win that way, you can finish a game and believe in each other.”
Williams recorded his second career 200-yard rushing performance, running for 266 yards and three touchdowns, on a school-record 38 carries. He became the second Rebel to record two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. After a challenging 2020 season, Williams has returned to form and continues to be a challenge for most defenses.
“Shoutout to the offensive line,” Williams said. “They had a lot of big holes and big creases set up for me. I helped them out making the right cuts, not dancing too much. They did a good job getting to the second level too, it was me in the secondary a lot and I appreciate that.”
Arroyo praised Williams’ commitment to the team and his coachability. Williams had embraced being a leader on and off the field. Arroyo said Williams shows his leadership by wanting to get better and driving the initiative of the type of culture Arroyo is working to build.
Offensively, while Friel did not have his best performance, the offensive line stepped up to help create running room for Williams, which led to big runs and the Rebels setting the tone of the game, as they had a 19-minute advantage in time of possession (39:38-20:22).
“He did an outstanding job with the offensive line, just staying on the gas,” Arroyo said of Williams having his best performance of the season. “When you can run the football like that, it’s demoralizing. It’s hard on the opponent to see you get run on over and over, and a guy battling.”
The Rebel defense also put together a great performance. They held the Rainbow Warriors to 14 percent on third down conversions and only to 240 yards of total offense. Arroyo, who gave the game ball to the offense, gave the pineapple to the defense for their help in the win.
Just a few weeks ago, it was a legitimate concern that the Rebels could go winless for the second year in a row. But with all the pressure to get that first win, UNLV did not break and has built upon the improvements seen throughout the season, turning the progress into victories.
“The way these guys have grown and the way they believe in each other,” Arroyo said. “The resilience, the belief, the way they practice, it’s continuing to show up.”
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