Emotions expected to be high as Aztecs and Rebels face off

Before they play football Saturday night in Las Vegas, the UNLV Rebels and the No. 19 San Diego State Aztecs will pause to remember the victims of last weekend's mass shooting on the Strip and honor first-responders.

It's going to be emotional, particularly for players who grew up in Las Vegas.

"Vegas is real small, so a lot of people are connected somehow," senior defensive tackle Mike Hughes said. "So you somehow know of somebody that may know somebody that was hurt in that situation. So I would say yeah, it's personal."

The Rebels (2-2, 1-0 Mountain West) will wear black helmets with a large red ribbon decal with "Las Vegas" on them. The Aztecs players will wear red ribbon decals on their helmets.

There are Las Vegas connections with the Aztecs (5-0, 1-0), too. Star running back Rashaad Penny said he reached he reached out to extended family members in Las Vegas, and to the player he replaced as starter, D.J. Pumphrey, the NCAA's all-time rushing leader who grew up there.

"Just hearing about that was very sad," Penny said. "This game is going to be even bigger. They're going to play with heavy hearts, as they should. Emotions are going to be, again, intense, just like last week's.

"We're all sorry to hear. We're all thinking about them in San Diego," Penny said. "You never want to be in that situation, just seeing all that stuff. It's sad."

Some things to know about UNLV hosting the undefeated Aztecs:


While working through the massacre's aftermath, UNLV coach Tony Sanchez has to keep the Rebels focused on playing the league's dominant team.

"It's our job and it's the job of each and every one of us to get back up and to go back to work and to keep living our lives and to continue to celebrate and to do the things that these acts try to eliminate," said Sanchez, who coached at Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman High before being hired by the Rebels in December 2014.

"I think that's one of the biggest things we've learned as a nation is when these things happen, we need to grieve and we need to give it time, but we also need to keep living and keep loving and keep doing the things that make this country so great. We can never let that stop and that has to be our combined mission."


UNLV will honor the victims of the shooting and people who helped in the aftermath.

"While football is just a game, it can also serve as a rallying point of unity and allow all of us to recognize the incredible heroism displayed by so many this week," athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said. "We are all extremely proud of our community's response over the last couple of days."

A full-field flag will be unfurled for the national anthem. The flag is being lent to UNLV by San Diego's Holiday Bowl, with help from the Las Vegas Bowl.

Besides the players wearing ribbon decals on their helmets, both coaching staffs will wear the ribbons and they will be given to fans.


A week after beating Northern Illinois 34-28 in a heated, physical matchup, the Aztecs will experience different emotions.

"Obviously, it's a much different week than normal," coach Rocky Long said. "The tragedy that's happened in Las Vegas has changed the feel of this game. Obviously it's going to be different than what we normally get ready for."

Long noted that the Rebels started slow "but are getting better and better as they go. They played well last week and we're tied for first in the Western Division of our conference so the winner of this is one up on the other. So the game is important, but it's not nearly as important as everything else that's going on."


Penny ranks second nationally at 164.6 yards per game and UNLV junior Lexington Thomas ranks fourth at 142.8. Penny was held to a season-low 107 yards by NIU. He had his right eye gouged by Huskies LB Antonio Jones-Davis and finished the game wearing a visor in his facemask. Penny said his eye is OK and he won't wear the visor against the Rebels. Penny's output was hurt by the absence of senior RG Antonio Rosales, who could miss his second straight game with an ankle injury.


SDSU is looking for its first 6-0 start since 1975, when it opened 8-0 before losing its final three games. The Aztecs are also eyeing their third straight MWC title and their fans hope they can clinch the Group of Five's bid in a major bowl.