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Hawaii holds off late charge from the Owls, beats Rice 43-29

Warriors move to 3-0 for the first time since 2007

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Colorado State Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.