Life as the hunted is different than life as the hunter. After slaying Colorado State and Navy as heavy underdogs, the 2-0 Hawaii Warriors were in an unfamiliar position going into Saturday: heavy favorites. After struggling to put away Prairie View A&M and losing to Houston, some fans showed up to Aloha Stadium expecting a beat down of the Rice Owls. Rice had other intentions.
Hawaii opened the football game in what is now typical fashion for the Rolo run-and-shoot Warriors: by taking a quick 14-0 lead off of a pair of Cole McDonald touchdowns. After those touchdown passes to John Ursua and Cedric Byrd, it appeared that maybe the rout was on. Instead Rice’s Emmanuel Esukpa scored on a 51-yard sprint to the house. Hawaii led 14-7 after one quarter.
Finally, a fourth receiving option emerged for the Warriors in Marcus Armstrong-Brown as Cole McDonald hit him for a 14-yard touchdown. The rest of the quarter, compared to Hawaii’s other two games, was relatively quiet as Hawaii went to the locker room up 21-10.
A field goal got the Owls within one possession in the early third quarter, but a Fred Holly 5-yard touchdown run stretched the lead to 28-13 with one quarter to go.
Then things got weird.
Hawaii ran what appeared to be a halfback draw backed up on their own one yard line. It resulted in a safety. A solid return on the ensuing kick was followed up by a 31-yard touchdown pass to Austin Trammell from quarterback Shawn Stankavage, and suddenly the score was 28-22 Warriors.
Home fans are booing 2-0 #hawaiifb that is ahead 28-22. As we know, a lot of the fans don't like running plays.— Dave Reardon (@dave_reardon) September 9, 2018
Conservative play-calling on offense led to enough frustration that boos from the home fans were heard. Rice wasn’t able to capitalize, and with 3:01 left in the game, Cole McDonald pulled the ball out of Fred Holly’s stomach and whipped it to wide receiver Cedric Byrd for a 26-yard touchdown. Byrd’s killing blow put the game out of reach, although the two teams would trade touchdowns before the final whistle.
#RICEvsHAW 4Q 3:01 | @HawaiiFootball is up by 14 late in the fourth quarter after Cole McDonald finds @cb4six for another TD -- Watch the Rainbow Warriors on @specsportshi and the @watchstadium app #MWFB pic.twitter.com/MgI5AAQR7x— Mountain West (@MountainWest) September 9, 2018
It wasn’t the old school WAC massacre some fans wanted, and maybe even expected, but it was some form of a wake up call for Hawaii. They are 3-0 for the first time since 2007 and are riding high. This is a good Hawaii football team, but on this Saturday night they were reminded the games aren’t played on paper.
NEXT UP: A long trip to West Point, New York to play the 1-1 Army Black Knights.