UNLV, UNR bring winning records in battle to be state's top gun

Updated: October 1, 2003, 5:14 PM ET

LAS VEGAS -- You don't need a cannon to convince head football coaches John Robinson and Chris Tormey that Nevada's south-north university rivalry is intense.

"I think people from the north and people from the south don't necessarily get along that well," Robinson said.

The UNLV coach takes his Rebels north to Reno for Saturday night's battle between 3-1 teams for bragging rights in the state and annual title to the Fremont Cannon.

"I think rivalries are the most fun in college sports," Robinson said.

Tormey said his Nevada Wolf Pack would "like to make it a rivalry."

"We'll have to protect the football," said Tormey, who took a dim view of three turnovers last week against SMU and one interception the week before against San Jose State.

"It's a big game," Tormey said. "Big games are always fun."

It's also a rivalry week for Mountain West Conference leader Air Force, which is 2-0 in conference and ranked No. 25 in the ESPN-USA Today Poll. The 5-0 Falcons meet Navy (2-2) in Landover, Md., in a Commander-in-Chief's Trophy matchup.

"If you're a service academy, it's for bragging rights," said Fisher DeBerry, Air Force head coach. "This is a big week in our football program. Beat Army. Sink Navy. That's the No. 1 goal."

In the Silver State's rivalry game, the Wolf Pack, 3-1 and 2-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, lead 15-13 overall UNLV has won the past three, including a 21-17 win last year in Las Vegas.

The Rebels come off a bye week after a Sept. 19 win at home against Hawaii and a Sept. 13 win at Wisconsin. The Wolf Pack beat SMU last week, 12-9, in Reno.

Robinson, the former USC and Los Angeles Rams coach, said the 2003 Nevada team looks like the best he's seen in his five seasons in the state. But he said this year's Rebels might be the best he's had, too, since he arrived in Las Vegas.

"Some teams really click together," he said. "Some teams are OK. This team seems to be clicking."

Security was being beefed up for the 7 p.m. game, which will be played for the first time under the lights at Mackay Stadium and televised on ESPN-Plus.

UNLV is bringing 10 police officers on the trip, and UNR has agreed to bring law enforcers to next year's game in Las Vegas.

University officials are trying to keep the focus on a game likely to feature UNLV quarterback Kurt Nantkes and Nevada QB Andy Heiser. The two are tied with five passing touchdowns on the season, and equal in completions ratio, at 53 percent.

"I think the athletes on the two teams, two good teams, just want to go out and play," Robinson said, adding that the rivalry could ignite "dangerous" passions if one side begins casting the other as "evil."

"We're trying to control that in both institutions," he said.

"There'll be a lot of emotion," Tormey said. "Hopefully, fans on both sides can keep level heads and stay sober. There have been some bums in the stands the last couple of years in both stadiums."

The prize in the series is the Fremont Cannon, which was refurbished by UNLV in 2000, after Rebels fans broke its wheels during raucous postgame celebrations.

It is a replica of a howitzer that, according to legend, trailblazer John C. Fremont hauled west into Nevada in 1843 and abandoned in a Sierra Nevada snowdrift. It was first awarded Thanksgiving Day, 1969.

UNLV has been led this year by running back Dominique Dorsey, receiver Michael Johnson and defenders Adam Seward and Jamaal Brimmer.

Tormey said he hoped for a big game from Wolf Pack running back Chance Kretschmer, a native of Tonopah, midway between Las Vegas and Reno. He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Wolf Pack receiver Nichiren Flowers has 17 receptions and averages 10.5 yards per catch.

Tormey said he also expected big games from defenders Jorge Cordova, Derek Kennard and Logan Carter, the WAC defensive player of the week. Carter, a linebacker, made 12 tackles, including one sack, and returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against SMU.

Other Mountain West teams in action this week include San Diego State (3-2) hosting BYU (2-3, 1-1 MWC) in the Aztecs' conference opener Saturday. San Diego State features Lynell Hamilton, ranked 12th in the nation in rushing.

Utah (3-1, 1-0 MWC) hosts Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) Friday night in an ESPN2 matchup in Salt Lake City. The Ducks are ranked No. 19 in The Associated Press college football poll. The Utes' running attack is led by Brandon Warfield, fifth in the nation with a rushing average of 131.5 yards per game.

New Mexico (2-3, 0-1 MWC) hosts Utah State (1-3, 1-0 Sun Belt) on Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M. The Lobos have won three of the past four over the Aggies. The last two games have gone into overtime.

Colorado State (2-3, 0-1 MWC), featuring Bradlee Van Pelt, hosts Fresno State (3-2, 1-0 WAC) on Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo.

Wyoming (0-4) is idle, and head coach Joe Glenn said his Cowboys would use the time to prepare for an Oct. 11 game at Utah State.

"We need to win a game," he said.

MWC Notes: Don't expect a reprise of 1991's 52-52 tie between San Diego State and BYU. The Aztecs average 22.6 points per game and have the MWC's stingiest defense, giving up an average of 12.4 points, while BYU scores 15.2 points per game and yields just 19.4 ... Colorado State leads the conference in total offense, behind Van Pelt's efficiency rating of 162.8 ... The Rams lost linebacker Eric Pauly for the season to a knee injury ... Of four MWC conference games played to date, three have been decided by seven points or less.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index