It wasn’t exactly what Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich was looking for on this homecoming night at Aloha Stadium, but the end result didn’t disappoint.
Rainbow Warriors quarterback Cole McDonald threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers to lead the Hawaii football team to a 35-16 nonconference victory over Central Arkansas before an Aloha Stadium crowd of 20,252. He hit 25 of 32 passes for 300 yards. He also had one interception that contributed to the four turnovers UH had for the evening.
Running back Miles Reed lost two fumbles and Jared Smart muffed a punt that led to a field goal right before half. But much like the Warriors did this first month of the season, they made a lot of mistakes, but still managed to win three of the first four heading into Mountain West play at Nevada on Saturday.
Down by 19 to start the final quarter, Central Arkansas was the first team to score in the second half on a nice 23-yard touchdown run by Carlos Blackman, who also threw a touchdown pass out of the wildcat formation in the first half. The PAT by Hayden Ray was good to cut UH’s lead to 28-16 with 12:18 remaining.
Hawaii got a solid return on the ensuing kickoff by Lincoln Victor to the UH 44. Reed ripped off a 19-yard run, but lost his second fumble of the night, giving the Bears the ball at the UH 35 with plenty of time remaining. Central Arkansas quickly moved into Hawaii territory with a nice mix of run and pass.
But a holding penalty by Central Arkansas set up a third-and-15 with 10:15 left that the Bears failed to convert, forcing a punt. Hawaii took over at its own 11, trying to run some clock. The Warriors picked up a couple of first downs, before facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 40 that running back Fred Holly converted with a 5-yard run. Hawaii eventually scored on this 12-play, 89-yard drive, the last snap being an 11-yard scoring strike from McDonald to Victor to put away the game.
The Warriors held a comfortable 28-9 lead to start the second half, forcing a three-and-out on the Bears’ opening drive. Hawaii was moving the ball well enough on its first possession after intermission, but McDonald threw his only pick of the game in the end zone to kill the threat. As it turned out, neither team scored in the third period as both offenses struggled.
Hawaii had some good moments en route to taking a 28-9 halftime lead, but that mistake-free game Rolovich was looking for didn’t happen. The Warriors committed four turnovers that resulted in only three points for Central Arkansas, including that 35-yard field goal right before the half that gave the Bears an emotional lift. They got the ball to start the second half in hopes of cutting into a big lead the Warriors built off the arm of McDonald.
In the opening 30 minutes, he completed 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns, to wideouts Smart, JoJo Ward and Cedric Byrd II. Hawaii’s first touchdown came by way of the defense as defensive back Kai Kaneshiro took a deflected fourth-down pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.
It helped set the tone for the Warriors, who were coming off three meetings with Pac-12 opponents. This could have been a trap game, but the Warriors were ready from the start. Their opening drive of the game appeared destined for a score until Reed fumbled at the Central Arkansas 31. He now has three lost fumbles in four games.
The Warriors defense turned away the Bears on the ensuing drive. Smart muffed a punt in the waning moments of the second quarter, giving the Bears the ball at the UH 12. Once again, the defense turned tough long enough to force the field goal by Ray that split the sticks. He also had an extra point blocked following a 4-yard touchdown pass from Blackman to Sam Camargo that cut UH’s advantage to 28-6. It was Camargo’s first catch of his career.