It’s a ‘Ninth Island’ throwback as UNLV faces Hawai’i again

Saturday’s meeting will likely be the most consequential edition of the rivalry in 16 years.

LAS VEGAS — On the evening of September 15, 2007, the nationally-ranked Hawaii Rainbow Warriors traveled to Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas to take on UNLV. The Rainbow Warriors were quickly becoming the talk of college football, in large part due to their star quarterback Colt Brennan. It was the early stages of an undefeated regular season that took the nation by storm and made Brennan a cult hero in the Hawaiian Islands.

UNLV was also coming off one of the more interesting games in program history that week. The previous Saturday, coach Mike Sanford’s Rebels hung with No. 5 ranked Wisconsin all the way until the final minute, losing a heartbreaker 20-13. It would have been without question the biggest win in program history, to this day. As it stands, it is still the last time a top 5 opponent traveled to Las Vegas to face the Rebels. 

UNLV’s defense actually managed to hang around in the early goings of the 2007 meeting. A handful of early stops, including a forced three-and-out on Hawaii’s first possession, allowed UNLV to even take an early lead. 

It would be short-lived, as history would come to find out. It didn’t take much longer for Hawaii’s prolific run-and-shoot offense to start rolling on the Rebels after that. 

When it was all said and done, the Rainbow Warriors waltzed out of Las Vegas on that September evening with a 49-14 victory. 

UNLV only gave up 298 yards passing and 2 touchdowns to the sensational Brennan, one of his lowest outputs in the final two seasons of his college career. 

Strangely enough, it was one of the few games Hawaii was able to get something going on the ground that season. On top of three short rushing touchdowns from Brennan, running back Keoloha Pilares ran for nearly as many yards as Hawaii did in the previous two games entirely.

UNLV would win their next game against Utah, before losing their final eight games to finish 2-10. A season that was considered promising after strong performances against Utah State and Wisconsin to open the season turned into yet another nightmare finish for the Rebels. 

Hawaii would finish the regular season 12-0, beating Washington as well as ranked opponent Boise State on their way to the Sugar Bowl. 

Unfortunately, the Rainbow Warriors’ BCS trip didn’t go the way Cinderella story Boise State’s did the previous season. Instead, the No. 4 ranked Georgia Bulldogs pummeled Hawaii 41-10. Led by a plethora of NFL talent including then sophomore QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia’s skill advantage was too much to be negated by Jones’ run-and-shoot offense. 

Colt Brennan finished third in the 2007 Heisman Trophy voting, behind Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and the winner, Florida’s Tim Tebow. 

Brennan never found footing in the NFL. He was at one point considered to be a first-round draft prospect, but fell to the sixth round in the 2008 draft. This was largely in-part due to questions about injuries and arm strength, as well as off-the-field concerns.

He tragically passed away on May 11, 2021 at the age of 37 after a longtime battle with substance abuse.

The 2007 game, broadcast by The Mtn (now Mountain West Network), is still available to watch in full on YouTube.