There weren’t a lot of folks outside the University of Hawaii huddle who thought the Rainbow Warriors would open the season 3-0, but that’s exactly what happened after they secured a 43-29 victory Saturday over Rice before an Aloha Stadium crowd of 21,954.
Sophomore quarterback Cole McDonald threw four touchdown passes to three different receivers as the Warriors held on for the third straight week after building an early lead. Rice dropped to 1-2, but kept the pressure on right to the end.
McDonald completed 22 of 33 passes for 319 yards. His favorite target was John Ursua, who caught nine for 133 yards and one score. But the biggest catch was a 63-yarder on a simple out route to JoJo Ward, who broke a tackle and raced up the right sideline to set up an eventual touchdown pass from McDonald to Cedric Byrd.
Hawaii was up only six and was facing a second-and-10 from its own 1 when Ward made the play of the night in an exciting football game from start to finish.
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Hawaii began the fourth quarter leading 28-13, but Rice had a fourth-and-goal from the 18-inch line that the Owls failed to convert when running back Emmanuel Esukpa came up short. But a bone-headed read-option call by Hawaii led to an easy safety for the Owls as Fred Holly was tackled in the end zone to cut UH’s lead to 28-15 with 14:43 left in the game.
Rice then returned the free kick to the UH 35 to threaten to score again. And that’s exactly what they did on a 31-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from Rice quarterback Shawn Stankavage to a wide-open Austin Trammell to cut the margin to 28-22 with 11:49 left.
The teams traded punts, with UH finding itself on its own 1 again to start a drive with 4:55 left in the game. But the 63-yard pass from McDonald to Ward got UH out to the Rice 36. Two plays later, McDonald threw a 26-yard scoring strike to Byrd, his second of the game. McDonald kept on the 2-point conversion to extend UH’s advantage to 36-22 with 3:01 left.
But back came the Owls, who scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Stankavage to Aaron Cephus to cut UH’s margin to 36-29 with 1:48 remaining in the game. Rice failed to convert on an onside kick and Holly followed it with a 46-yard touchdown run right down the middle of the field to seal the deal at 43-29 with 1:35 left. It was his second score of the game as he finished with 100 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Rice won the toss but lost the first quarter by one touchdown.
Hawaii struck quickly with a pair of scoring passes from McDonald to Ursua for 6 yards and from McDonald to Byrd for 10 to give the Warriors a 14-0 advantage with 3:39 left in the opening period.
But the Owls came right back with a 51-yard touchdown run by Esukpa to cut the margin to seven just 36 seconds later and then threatened to draw even early in the second period before failing to convert a fourth-and-5 at the UH 35.
Hawaii needed just eight plays from there to light up the scoreboard once more and extend the margin back to 14 with 8:05 remaining on a nice throw and catch from McDonald to Marcus Armstrong-Brown, who broke a couple of tackles along the way to stretch out and score from 14 yards away. Hawaii scored touchdowns on three of its first four drives and got the ball again to start the second half with a 21-10 advantage. Rice hit a field goal of 34 yards by Jack Fox just before halftime to stay in it and then closed it to eight with a 31-yard field goal by Fox on the first drive of the second half for the Owls to make it 21-13 with 9:45 left in the third.
Hawaii extended the advantage to 28-13 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Holly with 1:44 left in the third quarter.