The winner of Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener isn’t yet able to redeem their ticket to the championship game, but that first step from Hawaii didn’t hurt.
In the past, Nevada has protected Mackay Stadium like the Marines on a strange beach head, but not so much on that cold and sometimes rainy night in Reno. Hawaii found several ways to score a 54-3 victory over a stunned wolf pack. It’s only the second time in 10 appearances that the Rainbow Warriors have managed to fly home with a smile from Reno. The last time it was in 2007, the season that Hawaii went to the Sugar Bowl.
That is dramatic enough. Add UH coach Nick Rolovich’s connection to the place – he was once the offensive coordinator in Nevada – and you can see how many storylines were written and discussed in an important football game for both teams’ postseason endeavors. With the win, Hawaii is 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the MWC game. Nevada went the other way, making it 3-2 for the season and 0-1 in the league.
Hawaii has the week off to prepare for the state of Boise and a trip to the blue field where warriors have never won. But if this meeting with the wolf pack is any clue, there could be a first time for everything.
As expected, expected a wintry mix that brought the temperature down into the 30s, a Hawaiian program more used to beachwear. Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald completed 25 of 30 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. He had no interception. Cedric Byrd scored three goals, including two touchdown throws in the first half, to extend his season to nine. He caught seven passes for 87 yards. The Warriors also had 139 yards on the ground, including a 9-yard scoring jump by Miles Reed in the key second quarter that included a blocked punt for a score.
With a gap of 31-3 at the beginning of the second half, Nevada was the first to take the ball in the hope of a big comeback. It didn’t happen when Hawaii took over its own 37 and drove 63 yards for the score. The final moment of the five-game drive was a 12-yard hit for Jason-Matthew Sharsh, his first touchdown of the year. Ryan Meskell added the PAT to make it 38-3 with 11:03 in the third quarter.
Nevada put together one of its best rides of the game on the following series, but it ended up with Kalen Hicks picking up a pass in the end zone with 6:49 in the quarter. McDonald methodically drove Hawaii 80 yards for another score. This time it was Byrd again from 20 meters away. It was his third touchdown catch of the game and Meskell got PAT to extend the lead to 45-3 at 2:57 in the third quarter. Sharsh led all receivers with nine catches for 123 yards and one score.
Hawaii scored five touchdown passes, a run game, a field goal, seven extra points, a blocked punt, and a safety on a bad snap that went over the Nevada punter’s head and out of the end zone to hit 47-3 in the fourth quarter with 9:20 remaining. Hawaii added another score on a 14-yard touchdown from quarterback Justin Uahinui to Robert Funkhouser when Meskell hit the PAT to make it 54-3.
The Hawaii Defense restricted Nevada to 203 yards and enforced three turnovers.
For more information on Hawaiian football, visit the Warrior Beat blog.