The wait for the first road win in the Timmy Chang era continues a bit longer.
The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-4, 0-1 MWC) fell to the UNLV Rebels (4-1, 1-0 MWC) on Saturday, 44-20, seeing this season’s trend of slow starts in games continue in the program’s conference opener at Allegiant Stadium.
The ‘Bows defense struggled to get off the field on third down and saw the Rebels’ run game gash the unit for 307 yards on the ground, the highest single-game rushing total for a ‘Bows opponent since last season’s October 29th home loss to Wyoming when the Cowboys rushed for 365 yards. It’s the fourth time in the last two seasons that the ‘Bows have given up 300 or more yards on the ground.
Hawai’i’s defense started strong, forcing a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession in just 46 seconds. UH’s offense responded with a fruitless first drive of their own before UNLV began the scoring with a quick 5-play, 66-yard drive on the next possession. The Rebels ran four times for 50 yards before redshirt freshman Jayden Maiava completed his first pass of the day, a 16-yard score to RB Vincent Davis Jr, putting UNLV ahead 7-0 with 9:04 left in the first quarter.
UNLV extended the lead to 10-0 with a 52-yard FG from K Jose Pizano at the start of the second quarter, capitalizing on a failed 4th-and-3 try from the UNLV 38 by Hawai’i with three points. UH would get on the board with the next drive, airing it out to senior WR Steven McBride twice for completions of 24 and 35 yards respectively to put the ‘Bows in field goal range and make it 10-3 with 12 minutes left in the first half.
The Rebels would answer back with a long, methodical 13-play drive that killed off over seven minutes in the second quarter but ended with UNLV settling for a 27-yard FG to push the lead back to 10 with under five minutes left in the quarter. Hawai’i looked to respond with points of their own, but two more sacks (including a strip sack to end the drive) from UNLV gave the home squad a chance to bury the visitors in the first half. The fumble by Schager was just the second lost fumble of the season for Hawai’i, the other coming in the Week 4 win over New Mexico State. The Rebs’ defense totaled five sacks in the opening 30 minutes on Saturday as they continuously had the ‘Bows offensive line off-balance.
UNLV punched in the 2nd TD of the afternoon quickly following the turnover, using a pair of Hawai’i personal foul penalties to push inside the red zone. That allowed RB Courtney Reese to rush it in from four yards out and extend a 20-3 halftime lead for the home team.
The slow start to the game has become the norm for the ‘Bows so far through six games. Hawai’i has been outscored 130-50 in the first half this season and 66-17 in the opening quarter, something that has been on the minds of the coaching staff for weeks. It was a familiar spot for UH, who went into last week’s halftime down two touchdowns before coming back to beat the Aggies on a last-second field goal.
The ‘Bows looked to get the momentum going on their end once again in the second half with a one-play scoring drive, as Schager connected with McBride on a 51-yard TD pass after some trickery left the UNLV defense fooled, making it 20-10 with less than four minutes off the third quarter clock.
Hawai’i’s defense was unable to come up with the complimentary stop on the ensuing drive, as tackling issues continued to pop up for the defense. The ‘Bows allowed three runs of 10+ yards on the possession, including the 21-yard touchdown scamper by Reese that saw three missed UH tackles help push the Rebs’ lead back to 17 with 8:11 remaining in the third.
The ‘Bows looked to be in business again after a 55-yard completion to McBride set them up deep in UNLV territory, but two incompletions and a run for a loss forced UH to settle for a 34-yard field goal to cut it to 27-13 with five minutes remaining in the third. The 55-yard pass was the ‘Bows longest play from scrimmage this season.
In need of a stop with time as the enemy, Hawai’i struggled to get off the field on third down and allowed the Rebels to move the chains to drain the remainder of the quarter. After a false start pushed UNLV back for a 3rd-and-18 at the start of the fourth, the ‘Bows were able to force a field goal try from 48 yards by the Rebs’ – one that skipped off the bottom of the uprights and through to make it 30-13 with 14:22 left for Hawai’i to mount a comeback.
Once again, UH’s offense worked quickly (with the assistance of a couple UNLV penalties) to keep the visitors’ hopes alive. This time, it was redshirt freshman Alex Perry breaking free for a wide-open 38-yard touchdown catch to cut the Rebs’ lead back to 10 with 12:47 left. Once again, the defense could not get the stop the team needed.
The Rebels went 80 yards in 10 plays, cutting off another four and a half minutes from the clock and pushing ahead, 37-20, on Maiava’s second TD pass of the day. The former Kaimuki QB found Jacob De Jesus for an easy 3-yard score to put Hawai’i’s comeback hopes on life support in his showcase against his hometown team.
Hawai’i saw a Pofele Ashlock catch-and-run of over 50 yards on 4th-and-5 called back for an illegal pick play, forcing the ‘Bows to punt from deep in their own territory instead and UNLV put the cherry on top two plays later (with the help of a face mask penalty) with a Donavyn Lester 22-yard TD run to open the biggest deficit of the day for the ‘Bows, 44-20.
One last-ditch effort for UH saw a drive deep into Rebels’ territory, but the opportunity ended with an INT in the end zone ripped from the hands of WR Karsyn Pupunu and may or may not have hit turf. UNLV would kneel on the next possession to take back the Island Showdown Trophy and avenge last season’s loss in the islands.
UNLV’s Maiava finished the day 11-for-21 passing the ball for 142 yards and 2 TDs, adding in four rushes for another 32 yards in what may be his final start before the return of injured starter Doug Brumfield. Six different Rebels finished with 30 or more rushing yards as the team averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Donavyn Lester led the way for the Rebs’ with 12 carries 98 yards and a TD.
Hawai’i’s Schager posted his third 300-yard performance of the season, throwing for 313 yards and two TDs to go along with two turnovers (1 fumble, 1 INT) on 22-of-35 passing in the loss. It’s the 15th consecutive game the gunslinger has thrown a touchdown pass for the ‘Bows. He was also sacked six times, five coming in the first half. McBride finished with a mind-boggling new career-high of 180 yards on six receptions and added his sixth TD catch of the year. The Kansas transfer finished with 205 all-purpose yards in the game.
The ‘Bows went 1-for-11 on 3rd-down conversion attempts, continuing another season-long problem. Hawai’i is converting at just a 32% clip on third down this season while seeing struggles getting off the field defensively, allowing opponents to convert at a 47% rate on the money down.
Hawai’i heads home to the benefit of a bye week, which couldn’t come soon enough for a banged-up ‘Bows team that saw Elijah Palmer need to be helped off late.
Timmy Chang called the conference-opener a “must-win” for the Rainbow Warriors but now must lead his squad past the loss and use the game as a “must-learn” going forward. With penalties, missed tackles and slow starts continuing to creep up in the worst moments, Hawai’i now has a chance to self-scout and correct ahead of the meat of the conference slate.
The ‘Bows return to action on October 14 when they host San Diego State with kickoff scheduled for 5 p.m. HT at T.C. Ching Complex.