The University of Hawaii football team fell short in a comeback bid against host Nevada-Las Vegas as the Rebels held on for a 31-23 Mountain West Conference victory at windy Sam Boyd Stadium.
Rebels quarterback Johnny Stanton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another to give the Rebels back-to-back league victories, raising their record to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in league play. Hawaii dropped to 3-6 for the season and 1-5 in conference action. Stanton threw for 244 yards and ran for another 27. UH quarterback Dru Brown was 24-for-47 for 269 yards and one score. Diocemy Saint Juste rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown on 20 attempts.
FOURTH QUARTER UNLV 31, HAWAII 23
Much like the third period, Hawaii scored first in this quarter, thanks in part to a pair of catches for 25 yards by Dylan Collie from Brown and then a big pass interference by UNLV in the end zone to set up first-and-goal from the 2. Saint Juste took it in from there to complete the 10-play, 65-yard drive. Alex Trifonovitch hit the PAT to cut UNLV’s margin to 28-20 with 11:46 left in the game.
The Rebels took over at their own 22 to start their first drive into the wind. No matter, UH’s defense can’t cover down the middle and struggles with tight end coverage as UNLV moved out near midfield and then into Rainbow Warriors territory with a pass completion of 11 yards by Stanton. A little later in the drive, facing a third-and-2, UNLV running back Lexington Thomas was held for no gain, setting up a fourth down that Stanton converted on a short pass play.
UNLV kept it on the ground for three run plays to move the sticks once more as the clock continued to roll to less than six minutes remaining. Eventually, the Rebels settled for a 32-yard field goal with 4:53 left in the game to make it a two-score game at 31-20. The 14-play, 65-yard drive was a backbreaker, as UNLV ran 6:45 off the clock.
Hawaii was effective in its next drive against a defense that had nine men drop back in pass coverage from snap to snap. That’s OK, Brown found freshman Kumoku Noa on a huge 38-yard pass completion that set up a first-and-goal from the 10. Three incomplete passes later, Trifonovitch trotted out for a 27-yard field goal that he made to cut the lead to 31-23 with 2:15 left.
An onside kick failed, giving UNLV the ball at the UH 48 on the recovery. Hawaii had only two timeouts left, but got the ball back at its own 23 with 1:12 left and no timeouts. The Warriors needed four snaps to get into UNLV territory, but had only 30 seconds left to go at the UNLV 42. Brown managed two incomplete passes to face third-and-10, but kept the ball for a first down at the 23 with 7 seconds left.
Brown had a chance to hit Keelan Ewaliko in the end zone, but overthrew him to end the game.
THIRD QUARTER UNLV 28, HAWAII 13
Hawaii scored first in the second half on a quick three-play drive that began at the UNLV 46 and ended on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Collie. Trifonovitch added the PAT to give UH its first lead of the game at 13-7 with 9:56 remaining in the quarter. A pass interference penalty on Collie assisted the Warriors, who also picked up 10 yards on a run by Saint Juste.
UH got good field position partly from recovering an onside kick to start the second half. The Warriors didn’t score on that drive, but they did flip the field thanks to a solid defensive effort in the early going of the period. But after the score, UNLV responded quickly with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Stanton to receiver Brando Presley. The PAT by Evan Pantels was good to make it 14-13 UNLV with 8:22 left in the quarter.
A costly false start by Chris Posa, his third penalty of the game for 25 yards, killed another drive. Hawaii also had another dropped pass, the fourth of the game, this time by Ryan Tuiasoa. After the punt into the wind, UNLV took over at its own 42.
The Rebels struck fast, starting with a 10-yard gain by Stanton and then a 24-yard scamper by Lexington Thomas to set up a first down at the Warriors 24. Four snaps later, facing fourth-and-1, UNLV gave the ball to Thomas and got the necessary yardage to move the sticks at the UH 13. Two snaps later, Stanton lost the ball at the 10, but on review, it was overturned, setting up third-and-7.
Stanton made the most of it with a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle of the field to Kendal Keys, his second touchdown of the game. The PAT by Pantels was good to make it 21-13 UNLV with 1:40 left in the third. UNLV tried an onside kick and recovered it at the UH 35. A 30-yard pass from Stanton to Presley made it first-and-goal. Two snaps later, Thomas took it in from the 3 and Pantels added the PAT to make it 28-13 with 23 seconds left.
After UH went on a 13-0 run, UNLV responded with a 21-point run of its own to take control of the game.
SECOND QUARTER UNLV 7, HAWAII 6
After being forced to punt early in the period, the UH offense began its next drive at its own 23, eventually moving into Rebels territory on a 10-yard run by Saint Juste. He continued to get the ball and had an 18-yard run to set up a first down at the 19, UH’s first trip into the red zone.
From there, Tuiasoa gained 5 yards up the middle on first down and Brown was forced to run for no gain on second, setting up a big third down midway through the second quarter that the Warriors failed to convert. UH brought in Trifonovitch for a 31-yard field-goal attempt that he hit to cut the advantage to 7-3 with 6:16 left in the quarter. It was his first field goal of the season.
The Rebels got hot on their ensuing series with a nice mix of run and pass by new quarterback Armani Rogers. He converted a third-and-13 with a nice pass completion to Keys for 21 yards and then was successful on a third-and-3 keeper for 16 to set up a first down at the UH 16. But on another third-down call, Rogers was sacked by Jahlani Tavai, forcing a fourth-and-17.
Because of a strong wind, UNLV opted to go for it, but the pass by Rogers was picked off by Soloman Matautia and UH set up shop at its own 40. Brown found Keelan Ewaliko for 37 yards with less than a minute, but a holding penalty by Posa killed the drive and UH had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Trifonovitch to cut UNLV’s lead to 7-6 with 17 seconds left in the half.
FIRST QUARTER UNLV 7, HAWAII 0
Hawaii won the toss and elected to receive. The Warriors wasted that opportunity on a typical three-and-out by the offense. UNLV took over at its own 32 after the punt on a windy day in Las Vegas. The Rebels needed only two snaps to find themselves in UH territory on a pair of pass completions for 26 yards by Stanton.
The drive continued with two more offensive snaps resulting in a first down at the UH 26. Facing a third-and-6, the Rebels converted with a quick pass to Thomas that set up a first-and-goal from the 4. Stanton took it in untouched on a read option play where he faked it into the line and kept it around the left side untouched for the score. The 68-yard drive took only eights plays. Pantels added the PAT to give UNLV a 7-0 advantage with 11:01 left in the first.
After three pass plays to open the game, Hawaii went to its more traditional rush game on the second series as UH looked to establish the running game with Saint Juste. His first three carries resulted in 10 yards, leaving Brown to convert two third downs on pass plays that left them in UNLV territory at the 47.
Two dropped passes by wide-open receivers left them with a third down that Brown couldn’t convert, forcing a punt as the Rebels started their second series at their own 20. After making one first down, the Rebels were forced to punt. UH took over at its own 20, where the offense went three-and-out once again.
UNLV began its third series at its own 40 and quickly moved into Hawaii territory to set up first down at the 30. The defense made two nice plays to set up a third-and-20 that UNLV didn’t convert, giving the ball back to UH at its own 20. UH picked up one first down, but was forced to punt after another dropped pass, this time by Saint Juste.
If the Hawaii football team is looking for a place to get better, Sam Boyd Stadium isn’t the location.
The last five times the University of Nevada-Las Vegas has played host to the UH, the Rebels have won. They are coming off a stunning win at Fresno State and are looking to ride the momentum to a winning record the rest of the way. UNLV is sitting in third place in the West division of the Mountain West Conference with a 3-5 record overall and 2-3 mark in league play.
Hawaii counters with a 3-5 record overall and 1-4 mark in league action. The Warriors are in fifth, with only lowly San Jose State below them in league play. Hawaii has struggled of late after opening the season 2-0, losing five of its last six games with a defense that can’t stop anybody and an offense that comes and goes with the wind.
If Hawaii entertains any thoughts of playing host at the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, then a victory is imperative today. UH needs to win three of its last four to break even at 6-6. The Warriors play host to Fresno State next weekend, go on the road to frosty Utah State, then close out the year with Brigham Young. It’s a tall order considering how UH has played so far.
And Sam Boyd Stadium isn’t a place where UH plays particularly well.