This is the one football game University of Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich wanted to win most of all. He might have spent the week deflecting questions of facing a Nevada Wolf Pack team he helped build when he was its offensive coordinator the previous four years, but this meeting was marked on his calendar as soon as the Mountain West Conference schedule was announced last spring.
Not only did he end a nine-game conference losing streak for his Rainbow Warriors, he beat his old team as well, 38-17 Saturday night before an Aloha Stadium crowd of 20,792.
The victory raised Hawaii’s overall record to 2-3 and conference mark to 1-0. Nevada, coming off a long trip to Purdue last Saturday, fell to 2-3 and 0-1 in league play.
During the bye week, Rolovich replaced starting quarterback Ikaika Woolsey with junior college transfer Dru Brown, who played a near flawless game. He completed 15 of 18 passes for 222 yards and his first two touchdown passes as a Division I quarterback.
UH running back Diocemy Saint Juste rushed for 205 yards on 19 carries. He is the 10th running back in UH history to crack that mark. Teammate Paul Harris, who led the Warriors in rushing last year, added 85 yards on seven attempts as UH gained 341 yards on the ground.
Leading 17-3 to start the third quarter, Hawaii took the opening drive of the second half and put more points on the board with barely a minute ticking off the scoreboard clock.
Hawaii went 75 yards on four running plays, with John Ursua taking it in from 5 yards out for the score. Rigo Sanchez added the PAT to make it 24-3 UH with 13:48 left in the quarter. Saint Juste got things started with a straight handoff up the middle that he took 59 yards to the Nevada 16. Three plays later, UH scored to put Nevada in a tough spot on its opening drive of the second half.
The Wolf Pack started at its own 22 and moved into Hawaii territory before an offensive pass interference and a sack killed their first drive of the third quarter. Hawaii started its second drive of the half at its own 5 after a 54-yard punt and no return.
Harris flipped the field with a 44-yard run and then ran for 15 more. Nevada was called for a 15-yard face mask that gave UH a first-and-10 at the Nevada 21. Saint Juste and Harris combined to give the Rainbow Warriors a first-and-goal just inside the Nevada 10.
It set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brown to tight end Metuisela ‘Unga, their second scoring play of the game. The 95-yard drive took only six plays. Sanchez made the PAT to extend UH’s lead to 31-3 with 6:10 remaining in the period.
After the Hawaii defense held Nevada on a fourth-down play at its own 42, the offense quickly moved into scoring position once more before tight end Kaiwi Chung took it in from 1 yard out to put the game out of reach. Sanchez hit the PAT to give UH a commanding 38-3 lead with 1:02 left in the quarter. The drive went 58 yards on six plays.
Much like the opening period, Hawaii put together another long drive early in the second quarter that resulted in points en route to a 17-3 halftime lead. Behind the feet and arm of Brown and the legs of Saint Juste, the Rainbow Warriors extended their lead to 10-0 with 8:43 left in the second quarter.
Hawaii scored on a 4-yard run by running back Steven Lakalaka and Sanchez added the PAT. The drive went 88 yards on 10 plays, taking 4:05 off the clock. At this point in the game, Brown hit seven of 10 passes for 89 yards. He also had 14 rushing yards on three carries. Saint Juste managed 85 yards on eight attempts. He had 114 yards at the half.
Nevada pieced together a long drive of its own before an apparent interception by UH at its 19 was overturned by replay officials. They ruled Nevada tight end Austin Carrow caught the ball and was down before the pick occurred.
It set up a first-and-10 for the Wolf Pack, but the UH defense held, forcing a 31-yard field-goal attempt by Brent Zuzo that was good to end a 14-play, 61-yard drive that took 6:15 off the clock. Hawaii led 10-3 with 2:28 remaining in the half.
That was enough time for Hawaii to produce a few first downs of its own to move into Nevada territory with 1:04 remaining. From the Wolf Pack 48, Brown completed a 32-yard pass to a diving Makoa Camanse-Stevens, who made a nice catch at the Nevada 16 with 55 seconds left.
Not to be outdone, Brown threw a 16-yard scoring pass to ‘Unga, who made a one-handed grab to end a six-play, 79-yard drive that took 1:35 off the clock. Sanchez hit the PAT to make it 17-3 Hawaii with 48 seconds left. It was Brown’s first touchdown pass of his career.
The Wolf Pack’s Elijah Mitchell returned the kickoff 52 yards to the UH 44 and then a 15-yard penalty by Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea for roughing the passer gave Nevada a first-and-10 at the UH 31 with 22 seconds left. The Warriors held, setting up a 48-yard field-goal attempt by Zuzo. He missed the first try, but UH had called time out just before the snap, giving him a second shot. He missed that one wide left as well to keep UH’s advantage to 14 points.
Nevada wasted little time moving the football against a Hawaii defense that had a hard time tackling anybody early on. The Wolf Pack took the opening drive from its own 25 and had a first-and-goal three plays later thanks to a 55-yard run by Nevada running back James Butler, who rushed for 168 yards on 21 carries.
A holding penalty on first down pushed Nevada back and eventually led to a fourth-and-goal from the 5, where Nevada lined up in a swinging gate field-goal attempt but opted to snap the football directly to quarterback Ty Gangi.
He tossed the football back to Jaxson Kincaide on an option play and Kincaide was tackled for a 4-yard loss, giving Hawaii the football for the first time at its own 9-yard line.
Getting his opening start of the year at quarterback, Brown had a hot hand on Hawaii’s opening drive, hitting his first four passes for 61 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 5. But much like Nevada, a big penalty by UH offensive lineman Dejon Allen led to a first-and-goal from the 20, where the drive eventually died.
It set up a 27-yard field goal by Sanchez that he hit to give UH a 3-0 lead with 5:23 left in the quarter. The scoring drive was 10 plays, 81 yards and took 6:06 off the clock.
Nevada scored a pair of garbage touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the final score a little more respectable for the Wolf Pack. Quarterback Tyler Stewart hit 19 of 33 passes for 203 yards and one score of 9 yards to Wyatt Demps to round out the scoring. Kincaide had a rushing touchdown of 2 yards earlier in the fourth. Zuzo hit both PATs.
For more Hawaii football, visit the Warrior Beat blog.