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Is It a Rivalry? Fresno State vs. Hawaii

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A look at one on the more underrated rivalries

Fresno State v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

In this new series, our writers will be looking at various Mountain West matchups and determining whether or not they qualify as rivalries. Our newest edition features Hawaii vs. Fresno State.

Record: Hawaii has 22 wins to Fresno State’s 29 wins and there is one tie in the series.

Longest winning streak: Hawaii’s longest winning streak is 3 and Fresno’s is 8.

Largest margin of victory: Hawaii 49-0 in 1970. Fresno 70-14 in 2004.

How does each team feel about the opposition and its fanbase?

Jeremy: In the eyes of some Hawaii Rainbow Warriors fans, Fresno State football might be UH’s primary rival. Or maybe one could surmise it’s the chief rivalry for the Rainbow Warriors fans who started following the program when June Jones took over in 1999. From 1999-2010, the “rivalry” was a heated one, often going back and forth between winners, and reports of skirmishes in the stands at both Aloha Stadium and Bulldog Stadium over that period. These interactions in general are relative, I’m sure nowadays you’ll find rowdy Fresno State fans and perfectly good-matured Bulldogs fans. But back in that specific decade, the two fan bases uh, had some reservations about each other. Presently, I’m sure the programs consider it a rivalry for marketing purposes, but things have fizzled out on the football field thanks to Fresno State’s dominance of the series.

Matt: Even though the games aren’t quite as back and forth as they used to be, there’s definitely still animosity between the two fan bases and teams. Especially when their commentator calls Fresno “the armpit of California” on a broadcast. Come on, we all know that the armpit is Bakersfield. Back in the early 2000’s though, this was a hated rivalry, with everything from fights in the stands to screwdrivers reportedly being thrown at benches. Especially since Hawaii doesn’t really have a natural rival due to their geographic isolation, we’ve definitely been with them for a long time through our different conferences.

Would you consider the rivalry competitive?

Jeremy: Hawaii’s 2008 victory over Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium was one of the highlights of the rivalry. The Bulldogs were ranked and poised to avenge their 2007 loss to Hawaii, and instead were upset and embarrassed in an overtime thriller. Since then, Hawaii has played Fresno State every single season and has won a whopping two times in that decade’s span. So, again without sounding too sarcastic, what do you think? Even Hawaii’s 2019 West Division championship-winning team, which will go down as one of the best Hawaii teams ever, lost to the hapless 2019 Bulldogs. It’s been one-way traffic for a long time.

Matt: It used to be a lot more competitive than it is now. Since 2010, things have been really lopsided in Fresno State’s favor. Even in our bad seasons like 2015 and 2019, we still managed to beat Hawaii. And the only time they really ever put a damper on one of our seasons was 1985, when we tied and kept Fresno State from a completely undefeated season. Maybe with two new coaches coming in for 2020, things will get a bit more exciting in the upcoming decade?

Which matchups stick out in your mind?

Jeremy: There have been several classics from the Hawaii perspective. The 1999 and 2001 showdowns at Aloha Stadium were highlights of the early June Jones era, the 2001 contest being arguably the most famous of them all as the Nick Rolovich-led Warriors upset David Carr and the Bulldogs. The 2002 matchup in Fresno produced an urban legend between the two programs about then Hawaii head coach June Jones being struck by a screwdriver. At least from my point of view, the 2006 beatdown also stands out. Hawaii’s 68 points that day at Bulldog Stadium were the absolute height of the run-and-shoot offense at Hawaii. I also recall the 2013 matchup in Hawaii, where the Derek Carr-led Fresno State Bulldogs won 42-37 but nearly suffered a shocking comeback Hawaii. Warriors were down 42-3 and nearly came all the way back.

Matt: Like I mentioned elsewhere, the 1985 matchup stands out, as it kept Fresno State from an undefeated season as well. The 2001 game that Jeremy mentioned was what really knocked us out of BCS contention, since we could have recovered from the Boise loss if we had ended the year 12-1, but the loss to Hawaii knocked us out of the rankings. The 2013 game was a seat of the pants victory as Hawaii roared back from 39 points down to lose by 5 on a late interception, but I’ll go with the 2004 game. I’ve never seen a Fresno State team more on a mission than the second half of the season Bulldog team. They were absolutely decimating every team they faced, and put 70 points on a Hawaii team run by June Jones and Timmy Chang.

If you asked Fresno State fans what they think about Hawaii what would they say aloud? What would they secretly be thinking?

Matt: We’d definitely say out loud that they get to live in a better part of the country, and when their offense is running the right way, they’re fun to watch. Especially for those of us CFB addicts that will stay up to 1am to watch the late-night Hawaii games. In secret, we’d all be thinking that we’d trade living in Fresno for Hawaii in a heartbeat, to escape the 110 degree summer heat. Also that we want the rivalry to become more competitive, and we want the Golden Screwdriver to become an official trophy. Get it together, ADs.

If you asked Hawaii fans what they think about Fresno State what would they say aloud? What would they secretly be thinking?

Jeremy: Hawaii fans are not the shy type when it comes to this rivalry. As noted earlier, the one-sided emphasis of the last decade means the vitriol has fizzled some, but these two programs still remember those golden years of the rivalry and do not like each other. To some, that’ll be in a good-mannered way. To others potentially inebriated, it might spill over some if you know what I mean.

Secretly, Hawaii fans are sick of losing to Fresno State. The 2000-2010 era was a symbol of Hawaii’s rise in football, and absolutely nobody wearing green, white, and black would have guessed after the 2010 Bryant Moniz-led beatdown in Fresno that Hawaii would beat the Bulldogs only one time from 2011-present. Hawaii has goals of continuing Nick Rolovich’s success with new head coach Todd Graham, and evening things out in this series would help the cause.

Final verdict, would you consider these two teams to be rivals?

Jeremy: This isn’t a traditional rivalry in a Michigan vs. Ohio State sense. Nobody from either fan base really cared about this matchup until June Jones showed up at Hawaii and made the Warriors winners.That said, the bitterness between the two programs was thick from 1999-2010, and a mythical unofficial trophy served as a symbol of that hate. That all said, things have died down as Fresno State began to own the series and Hawaii’s plight under Norm Chow took over. Lopsided results make it hard for enthusiasm on both sides. I’ll say yes, Hawaii and Fresno State are rivals, but it’s a C-grade rivalry. Passing grade, but not a hint over that thanks to Fresno State’s stranglehold on the rivalry. Hawaii pulling out a win or two in the coming years can change that. That 1999-2010 era is the reason I won’t fight anyone who says this is a rivalry, but I also won’t internet fight anyone who says rivalries that are contingent on results aren’t rivalries either.

Matt: Kind of? I mean, there’s not the same level of hate as there is for Fresno and Boise, or even the history of Fresno and San Jose, but we still consider them a rival in the conference. Yes,things have been pretty lopsided in the last decade, but things were really heated when June Jones and then Greg McMackin were running the show on the islands. Maybe things will be a bit more balanced in the next decade, but a long line of losing doesn’t stop a rivalry from existing. If it did, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma wouldn’t be a rivalry anymore, but don’t tell fans of either school that. And yes, we need a real trophy. That helps make a rivalry game seem more official.