On a homecoming night of bobbles and hobbles, the Hawaii football team found its way with a 35-16 victory over Central Arkansas at Aloha Stadium.
A Saturday night crowd of 20,252 saw the Rainbow Warriors overcome ailments and self-inflicted mistakes to take a 3-1 record into this week’s Mountain West opener against Nevada.
“Three and one is not bad,” coach Nick Rolovich said in the chaotic corridor outside the UH locker room. “The thing is, all these things”— three lost fumbles and a pick — “are going to catch up to us if we don’t clean it up. It’s multiple who turned the ball over.”
But the Warriors, who entered with 11 giveaways in the first three games, would once again disprove the correlation between errors and outcomes.
Cole McDonald, in his most efficient performance of the season, threw four scoring passes to four different receivers while compiling 300 aerial yards. His third touchdown — 13 yards to right slotback Cedric Byrd with 7:53 left in the first half — gave the Warriors a 28-0 cushion they would ride the rest of way.
“I thought Cole played really well,” Rolovich said. “He was dialed in. He didn’t make many mistakes.”
Eight days earlier, injured running back Dayton Furuta asked if McDonald could take his place as a co-captain. Teammates approved the suggestion during a meeting. Rolovich confirmed that McDonald would assume the captain’s title.
McDonald demonstrated his on-field leadership with his distribution of the offense. Five Warriors had at least three receptions. McDonald’s first scoring pass went 5 yards to right wideout JoJo Ward, who used a double move to break open on a crossing pattern for a 14-0 lead.
It was 21-0 after McDonald fired a pass to Jared Smart in the left flat. Smart eluded a would-be tackle and vaulted past a second one to complete the 16-yard play. It was the first NCAA touchdown for Smart, who transferred from a junior college in January.
“Just the usual,” said Smart, who has bonded with McDonald during offseason training and post-practice workouts. “We built a connection, and it’s working out.”
Rolovich said: “Jared’s greater qualities are his hands and his desire after the catch.”
But while Smart had his most productive game as a receiver — eight catches for 121 yards — he struggled as a replacement for punt returner Melquise Stovall, who did not suit up because of an ailment. Smart muffed two punts, including one that he lost at the UH 17 with 36 seconds left before half. The Bears parlayed that turnover into Hayden Ray’s 35-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 28-9.
Smart offered no excuses. “I just dropped them,” he said of the muffs. “Next time I have to catch them.”
Running back Miles Reed also lost two fumbles. The first was on the Warriors’ opening drive. The second came in the fourth quarter on a play on which he was ruled down before a video review. Both fumbles appeared to be results of hits.
“That’s something I pride myself in, not even wavering when getting hit like that,” Reed said. “It happened tonight, and that’s unfortunate. I have to look at that, look at myself, look at the tape, see what I did, and correct those things. It’s football. It can happen again. But minimizing it is the biggest issue. (Fumbles are) the quickest way off the field, and what I want to be on. If I want to play, I have to make those corrections.”
Neither fumble proved to be harmful.
Following Reed’s second turnover, it was UH’s defense that provided the save. The Bears’ drive stalled because of a holding penalty and misfired passes to LuJuan Winningham, who entered as the FCS division’s most productive receiver.
The Warriors had only one sack, by rush end Kaimana Padello, but they forced Smith out of rhythm with aggressive pass rushes and blitzes.
“Everybody was getting off blocks, and not just being block magnets,” Padello said. “It’s guys rushing, and doing their job.”
The Warriors had eight pass breakups, and scored the opening touchdown on nickelback Kai Kaneshiro’s 55-yard interception return.
On the Bears’ first possession, Breylin Smith fired a pass that ricocheted off wideout Dwight Blakey. The football popped toward Kaneshiro.
“My guy did a slant, and I could see the quarterback’s eyes were looking toward the No. 1 receiver,” said Kaneshiro, a second-year freshman. “And boom. The ball popped, and I got it.”
Kaneshiro said he saw nothing but artificial pay turf. “I didn’t even care to look anywhere else. I just ran. … It was probably was my first (pick-6) since Pop Warner. It’s been a good minute.”
The Warriors were without ailing right guard Solo Vaipule, safety Ikem Okeke and Stovall. Lincoln Victor, a true freshman from Washington, filled in for Stovall. Victor had a 35-yard kickoff return, and scored on an 11-yard pass from McDonald.
“We’ve seen this every week,” McDonald said. “We have weapons everywhere. Whether it’s a backup or starting guys, they’re just dangerous. Every one of them. Just getting the ball in their hands, they’re going to make plays, and they’re going to make guys miss, and ultimately you’re going to score touchdowns.”
>> Kai Kaneshiro 55 interception return. Ryan Meskell kick.
>> Time: 8:48.
>> Score: Hawaii 7, UCA 0
>> JoJo Ward 5 pass from Cole McDonald. Meskell kick.
>> Drive: 7 plays, 63 yards,
4:01 elapsed time.
>> Time: 1:52.
>> Score: Hawaii 14, UCA 0
>> Jared Smart 16 pass from McDonald. Meskell kick.
>> Drive: 4 plays, 44 yards,
1:23 elapsed time.
>> Time: 14:28.
>> Score: Hawaii 21, UCA 0
>> Cedric Byrd 13 pass from McDonald. Meskell kick.
>> Drive: 7 plays, 77 yards,
3:29 elapsed time.
>> Time: 7:53.
>> Score: Hawaii 28, UCA 0
>> Sam Camargo 4 pass from Carlos Blackman. Kick blocked.
>> Drive: 7 plays, 67 yards,
3:31 elapsed time.
>> Time: 4:14.
>> Score: Hawaii 28, UCA 6
>> Field Goal Hayden Ray 35.
>> Drive: 6 plays, -6 yards,
:26 elapsed time.
>> Time: :10.
>> Score: Hawaii 28, UCA 9
>> Blackman 23 run. Ray kick.
>> Drive: 10 plays, 82 yards,
5:27 elapsed time.
>> Time: 12:18.
>> Score: Hawaii 28, UCA 16
>> Lincoln Victor 11 pass from McDonald. Meskell kick.
>> Drive: 12 plays, 89 yards,
6:33 elapsed time.
>> Time: 3:27.
>> Score: Hawaii 35, UCA 16
First downs 18 23
Rushes-yards 23-146 24-113
Passing 189 300
Comp-Att-Int 29-53-1 25-32-1
Return Yards 69 55
Punts-Avg. 6-35.66 2-38.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 4-3
Penalties-Yards 6-45 7-75
Time of Possession 30:41 29:19
RUSHING—Cent. Arkansas, Blackman 17-147, Crossley 3-3, McCray 1-1, Richmond 0-0, Smith 2-(minus 5). Hawaii, M.Reed 10-60, McDonald 4-31, Holly 8-26, (Team) 2-(minus 4).
PASSING—Cent. Arkansas, Blackman 1-1-0-4, Smith 28-51-1-185, (Team) 0-1-0-0. Hawaii, McDonald 25-32-1-300.
RECEIVING—Cent. Arkansas, Winningham 8-53, Blackman 5-29, Nix 3-25, Ross 3-20, Richmond 3-12, Fox 2-20, Hudson 2-16, Blakey 1-8, Camargo 1-4, Robinson 1-2. Hawaii, Smart 8-121, Byrd 6-54, Sharsh 5-67, Victor 3-33, Ward 3-25.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.