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Steve Marcus

UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo talks with officials during the first half of a game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Allegiant Stadium Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

The UNLV football season came to an end on Saturday, and not a moment too soon.

The 2020 campaign will be remembered for a long time around UNLV, but for all the wrong reasons after Hawaii defeated Marcus Arroyo’s squad, 38-21, to cement the first winless season for the program since 1998.

Hawaii jumped out to a 21-0 lead and was never threatened over the final three quarters. For UNLV, it was a merciful conclusion to a shortened season that nevertheless seemed to drag on interminably, blowout loss after blowout loss.

There were mitigating factors, of course. Arroyo was learning on the job in his first year as a head coach, COVID-19 threw the offseason into turmoil, some players opted out before the season, practice time was limited, the roster was in flux on a weekly basis and two games were canceled along the way.

Max Gilliam got the start at quarterback, as he did in every game this season, and UNLV promptly went 3-and-out on the game’s opening possession, including a sack of Gilliam on third down. It took Hawaii just two plays before quarterback Chevan Cordeiro snapped off a 54-yard touchdown run the other way to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead.

Freshman Doug Brumfield replaced Gilliam on the ensuing drive, but his five possessions at the helm produced zero points. Brumfield connected on 5-of-13 passes for 58 yards and then suffered an arm injury while making a tackle after Hawaii recovered a fumbled snap.

Hawaii’s lead had grown to 21-0 by the time UNLV finally got its offense in gear. Gilliam was reinserted after Brumfield’s injury and Arroyo let him sling it in the 2-minute drill; taking over with 1:45 on the clock, Gilliam hit 4-of-4 passes, including a 19-yard touchdown to Kyle Williams, to put the scarlet and gray on the board before halftime.

Hawaii received the ball to start the second half and immediately got into scoring position on a 71-yard pass from Cordeiro to Koali Nishigaya. Nishigaya then finished the job with a 14-yard run on the next play to make it 28-7.

UNLV running back Charles Williams scored on a 1-yard run to bring UNLV within 28-14 midway through the third quarter (and then celebrated by performing his version of a hula dance in the end zone). Williams added another touchdown on a 49-yard run, and UNLV had one last chance to make a game of it after Hawaii missed a short field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Gilliam led the offense on the field, trailing 35-21, with 8:45 to play, but the drive stalled at midfield. On 4th-and-9 Gilliam scrambled to the sideline and was forced out of bounds well short of the marker for a turnover on downs. Hawaii then drove for a field goal to make it a three-score game, closing the door on one of the worst seasons in UNLV history.

How non-competitive was the team in Arroyo’s first year? UNLV was outscored, 228-104, and was consistently blown out on a weekly basis (an average margin of defeat of 20.7 points per game). The team’s only spirited performance came in Week 3 against Fresno State, a game that was tied, 27-27, entering the fourth quarter. Fresno State scored the next 13 points to win, 40-27, and UNLV didn’t come within two touchdowns of any other opponent.

After the loss in Hawaii, Arroyo said 2020 was a learning experience and expressed optimism for the future.

“I’m going to take a lot from this season,” he said, “and I’m excited as heck that I’m here to do it with these guys.”

If there was a silver lining on Saturday it was that UNLV finally got its running game on track, as Williams carried 22 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

The senior running back, who could return next year, believes UNLV made progress throughout the season and vouched for Arroyo as the man to lead the program despite what happened on the field this year.

“We did this in 71 days,” Williams said. “Give us a full offseason, give us a full schedule and everything like that and I feel like this program is really going to start jumping. I see a really bright future. Coach Arroyo knows what he’s doing.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun