Nevada has never been an easy place to play for the University of Hawaii football team. Even when the Rainbow Warriors were good, they struggled to beat the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium.
Such was the case again today in the homecoming game for Nevada. Down 17 points with two minutes left in the first half, Nevada rallied for a 30-20 Mountain West Conference victory over struggling Hawaii.
The Warriors dropped to 2-6 for the season and 0-4 in league play as head coach Norm Chow’s job is likely in jeopardy if he loses again in 2015. Nevada evened its record at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in conference action.
Burly back James Butler scored the game-clinching touchdown, his second six-pointer of the day, late in the fourth quarter of a matchup Hawaii could have won. Butler carried the football 28 times for 134 tough yards. Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart managed the game well, unlike Hawaii counterpart Max Wittek. He had four turnovers for the afternoon, including two interceptions in the second half that led to 10 game-deciding points.
Nevada won the toss and deferred, meaning the Wolf Pack got the ball to start the third quarter down a touchdown to the Warriors, who hoped to match their first-half performance.
The UH defense was on the field first and after yielding one first down, forced a punt. The Warriors offense did the same thing, giving Nevada the ball at its own 28.
From there, the Wolf Pack moved easily down the field against a tiring UH defense to set up a first-and-10 at the UH 18. The Warriors held, forcing a 29-yard field goal by Brent Zuzo to trim UH’s margin to 17-13 with 7:43 left in the third quarter.
Hawaii responded with a field goal of its own, made more difficult after Wittek was called for intentional grounding on third down The Warriors had driven the ball to the Wolf Pack 18 before the loss back to the 29. No matter. Rigo Sanchez was steady and true from 47 yards out to extend UH’s lead to 20-13 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
Nevada came right back with another long drive, this time scoring a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. The score was on a 5-yard pass from Stewart to tight end Jarred Gipson as Zuzo added the PAT to even the score at 20-20 with 14:02 left in the game.
It was the fifth time that pass play worked for Nevada as Hawaii seemed unable to cover it throughout the afternoon.
Zuzo gave Nevada its first lead of the game on a 30-yard field goal with 9:02 remaining that was set up on a Wittek pick by Nevada safety Asauni Rufus. Another Wittek pick later in the quarter that gave Nevada a first-and-10 at the UH 21 with about four minutes remaining.
Butler went 10 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 9. Two plays later, he bulled in from the 1 to seal the deal as Zuzo added the PAT to make it 30-20 with 2:20 remaining.
With neither offense doing much in the opening two series of the game, it was UH punt returner Nick Nelson, who helped Hawaii establish early field position with returns of 37 and 22 yards. The latter set up a 50-yard field goal by Sanchez to give Hawaii a 3-0 advantage with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
Hawaii scored again early in the second quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass on a bubble screen from Wittek to wide receiver Devan Stubblefield as Sanchez made the PAT to give UH a 10-0 advantage with 13:12 left in the half. The two-play, 43-yard drive was set up on an interception by Dany Mulanga off a deflection of a Nevada pass by Stewart.
Hawaii extended the lead to 17-0 on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Wittek to Stubblefield that completed a 10-play, 73-yard drive that was again set up by the UH defense. Facing fourth-and-4 at the UH 30, the Wolf Pack went for it, but came up a yard short on the play. Hawaii quickly moved down the field for the touchdown and the PAT by Sanchez to make it 17-0 with 5:24 left in the half.
Nevada finally came to the party with a scoring drive just before intermission with a 1-yard touchdown run by Butler that had to be reviewed in the booth. Zuzo hit the PAT to make it 17-7 Hawaii with 1:12 left in the half. The drive was nine plays and 53 yards to get the Wolf Pack in the scoring column.
A pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties resulted in an onside kick from the Hawaii 35 and Nevada recovered it at the UH 23. One of the penalties was on Chow and it gave Nevada an excellent chance to dig into Hawaii’s lead.
And the Wolf Pack did just that with a 40-yard field goal by Zuzo to cut the margin to 17-10 with 53 seconds left in the half. Hawaii ended the first 30 minutes with an interception in the end zone on a Hail Mary by Wittek.
The senior transfer completed 27 of 40 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns to Stubblefield. UH running back Paul Harris carried the ball 16 times for 57 yards and Stubblefield managed eight receptions for 91 yards and two scores.
For Nevada, Stewart hit 12 of 23 for 128 yards. He had one touchdown and one interception. Running back Don Jackson had 61 yards on 21 carries to complement Butler. Stewart ran the ball seven times for 50 key yards.