The winner of Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener can’t cash its ticket to the league championship game just yet, but this first step by Hawaii didn’t hurt.
In the past, Nevada has protected Mackay Stadium like the Marines on a foreign beach head, but not so much on this cold and sometimes rainy night in Reno. Hawaii found several different ways to score to secure a 54-3 victory before a stunned Wolf Pack crowd. It is only the second time in 10 appearances here the Rainbow Warriors have managed to fly home from Reno with smiles on their faces. The last time it happened was in 2007, the season that Hawaii went to the Sugar Bowl.
That’s dramatic enough. Add UH coach Nick Rolovich’s connection to the place — he was once the offensive coordinator at Nevada — and you can see how many story lines were being written and discussed in an important football game for both teams’ postseason aspirations. With the win, Hawaii is 4-1 overall and 1-0 in MWC play. Nevada went in the other direction to 3-2 for the season and 0-1 in league action.
Hawaii gets the week off to prepare for Boise State and a trip to the blue field where the Warriors have never won. But if this meeting with the Wolf Pack is any indication, there might be a first time for everything.
As expected, a wintry mix that lowered the temperature into the 30s awaited a Hawaii program more accustomed to beach attire. Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald completed 25 of 30 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. He did not have an interception. Cedric Byrd caught three scoring passes, including two touchdown tosses in the first half, to run his season total to nine. He caught seven passes for 87 yards. The Warriors also had 139 yards on the ground, including a 9-yard scoring jaunt by Miles Reed in the key second quarter that included a blocked punt for a score.
Trailing 31-3 to start the second half, Nevada got the ball first in hopes of making a big comeback. It didn’t happen, as Hawaii took over at its own 37 and drove 63 yards for the score. The last snap of the five-play drive was a 12-yard scoring strike to Jason-Matthew Sharsh, his first touchdown of the year. Ryan Meskell added the PAT to make it 38-3 with 11:03 left in the third quarter.
Nevada put together one of its best drives of the game on the ensuing series, but it ended with Kalen Hicks picking off a pass in the end zone with 6:49 left in the quarter. McDonald methodically drove Hawaii 80 yards for another score. This time, it was Byrd once more from 20 yards out. It was his third touchdown catch of the game and Meskell made the PAT to extend the lead to 45-3 with 2:57 left in the third quarter. Sharsh led all receivers with nine catches for 123 yards and the one score.
Hawaii scored on five touchdown passes, one running play, one field goal, seven extra points, one blocked punt and a safety in the fourth quarter on a bad snap that went over the Nevada punter’s head and out of the end zone to make it 47-3 with 9:20 remaining. Hawaii added one more score on a 14-yard touchdown from quarterback Justin Uahinui to Robert Funkhouser as Meskell hit the PAT to make it 54-3.
The Hawaii defense limited Nevada to 203 yards and forced three turnovers.
For more Hawaii football, visit the Warrior Beat blog.