The 9th island battle between Hawaii and UNLV has rendered predictable results in the past, largely the Rebels winning on their home turf. This time, however, Hawaii not only bucked historical trends by winning in Vegas, but won in a fashion many didn’t anticipate. Hawaii-UNLV did not turn into track meet, but instead a defensive struggle.
Points were few on the warm Vegas afternoon. Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro was given the starting nod again after his impressive showing last week against San Jose State. Last week, however, was last week. Cordeiro led Hawaii well into Rebel territory on his first drive, but completely air-mailed his receiver and was picked off by UNLV’s Jericho Flowers. Bad start.
The two teams would trade ugly drives resulting in punts until a Hawaii fumble afforded the Rebels the ball in positive territory. A 31-yard touchdown pass from Kenyon Oblad to Darren Woods Jr. gave the Rebels a 7-0 lead. Needless to say, I don’t think the Rebels anticipated on that being their only points of the game.
On the next drive, Hawaii’s Cordeiro threw an ugly interception that was fielded like a punt. This prompted Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich to make yet another quarterback switch. This time, it was Cole McDonald doing his best Cordeiro impersonation and rallying the Warriors from behind on the scoreboard. The Warriors offense didn’t explode under McDonald, but they did enough to level the score right before halftime.
In the early second half, not much changed. Both offenses struggled to progress, and the deadlock was broken late in the third quarter when Hawaii cornerback Cortez Davis picked off a pass from Oblad and ran it back for a touchdown. A contest between two teams with poorly ranked defenses, and well, at least one good offense (sorry Rebels fans), it was easy to expect a scoring barrage. Instead, defense and Davis ruled on the day as Hawaii took a 14-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
Hawaii’s defensive touchdown would essentially be the game-winner. On the next drive, Hawaii’s defense ushered the Rebels off the field quickly once again and on the ensuing drive a run-heavy approach put the Warriors into the end-zone via Cole McDonald’s legs. Up 21-7, Hawaii forced another turnover before the final whistle but the game was largely a charade in the final minutes with nothing of consequence occurring. Hawaii won 21-7 over UNLV, their first win in Las Vegas since 2007.
Hawaii moves to 7-4 (4-3) on the season. Somehow, someway, the Warriors are playing for a division championship next week against San Diego State. Historically, 0-1 conference losses are required to play in the Mountain West Championship game. Occasionally, two conference losses is acceptable. Only once (Fresno State, 2014) has three conference losses been good enough for a championship game berth. The Warriors can make that happen next week. By beating San Diego State, both teams would sit on three conference losses and Hawaii would own the tiebreaker over both the Aztecs and Nevada Wolf Pack.
Believe it, folks. Hawaii vs. San Diego State will decide the West Division. Hawaii also assured their place during the bowl season is secured as well, although apparently it’s not a sure thing Hawaii plays Brigham Young in the Hawaii Bowl.
Regardless, Hawaii has all to play for next week.