With the possibility of postseason play exiting the stage with a loss, Hawaii knew today’s football game at New Mexico was a must-win. And that’s exactly what the Rainbow Warriors did 45-31 over the Lobos in the hosts’ 95th homecoming game in Albuquerque, N.M.
The victory leveled Hawaii’s Mountain West Conference record at 2-2 and raised its overall mark to 5-3, still two wins shy of playing during the holidays. The Lobos dropped to 2-6 for the season and 0-4 in league play. They have now lost five in a row and likely put their head coach’s job in jeopardy.
That’s not the case for UH main man Nick Rolovich, whose team was ready from the outset as Hawaii snapped a seven-game losing streak to New Mexico dating back to 1993. Hawaii scored three touchdowns in the opening period, the first on a 76-yard scamper by quarterback Cole McDonald, the second on an interception return of 14 yards by linebacker Solomon Matautia and the third on a 54-yard touchdown pass from McDonald to wideout Kumoku Noa to set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon.
McDonald completed 17 of 30 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown. He also had two scoring runs, including a 1-yarder in the second period. He rushed for 140 yards on nine carries. He was the first UH quarterback to rush more than 100 yards since Bryant Moniz vs. Colorado in 2011. UH running back Miles Reed also scored from 1 yard out in the second quarter as UH built a comfortable 35-3 lead at the half.
Hawaii ran the ball for 192 yards in the first half en route to 251 for the game. It was a much more balanced attack than you normally see from a run-an-shoot team. Reed carried the ball 16 times for 97 yards and the one score.
The Warriors got the ball first to start the third quarter after building its largest road halftime lead in school history, but the drive died on a pick by McDonald. The Lobos took advantage of a 67-yard touchdown run by Ahmari Davis to cut the margin to 35-10 with 11:02 remaining in the third. He led all rushers with 200 yards on 16 carries and two scores. New Mexico quarterback Tevaka Tuioti hit 23 of 40 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, including the pick-six.
Midway through the period, Chevan Cordeiro came in as the signal caller and he quickly led the Warriors down the field that resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Ryan Meskell to make it 38-10 with 2:56 remaining in the third. McDonald came back in to start the fourth quarter and led Hawaii into New Mexico territory where the Warriors spent most of the day. After a 33-yard run by Cole, Cordeiro came back in and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Lincoln Victor to give UH a commanding 45-10 lead.
New Mexico rallied for three touchdowns over the last 10 minutes on a 19-yard run by Davis, and two scoring passes by Tuioti of 9 yards to Anu Somoye and 59 yards to Jordan Kress to make it 45-31. Hawaii intercepted a pass at the UH 5 late to secure the win.