As Honolulu experienced torrential rain and thunder storms earlier in the day, the University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (1-0, 0-0) were able to weather their own storm and last-second charge in the form of the University of Colorado and their rushing attack, defeating the Buffaloes 28-20, Thursday night, in a nationally televised game at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium.
The Warrior defense forced a completed pass short of the first down marker as time ran out on the Buffs, who drove deep into Hawai’i territory seeking the tying score.
It was truly a list of firsts for the Warriors, and they couldn’t be happier for all of them. The team earned its first win of the year, while USC transfer quarterback Max Wittek earned his first win as a starter and threw for his first three touchdowns.
Defensive lineman Luke Shawley recorded his first career sack and led the Warrior defense with 14 tackles while placekicker Rigoberto Sanchez converted on both of his two field goal opportunities while averaging 46.3 yards on 10 punts.
Wittek finished the game going 19-of-38 for 202 yards and three scores. He threw an incendiary 79-yard touchdown strike to Marcus Kemp over the middle, which gave the Warriors a 15-7 lead in the second quarter. Running back Paul Harris finished the game with 73 yards rushing on 17 carries in his UH debut.
It was a truly strong performance for the Hawai’i defense and they proved their worth holding off the Buffaloes time and time again and forced three turnovers, including a pick by Julian Gener while the Buffs were driving for a score.
The game or season could not have started any better for the Warriors as they stopped Colorado on its first drive of the game. On the ensuing punt attempt, Keelan Ewalikoblocked and recovered it setting up UH’s first score, as Wittek found receiver Quinton Pedroza in the corner of the endzone. The duo hooked up again for a surprise two-point conversion, giving the Warriors an 8-0 lead.
Two distinctive features, turnovers and quick strike offensive touchdowns marked the first half of the game. The first two scoring drives for the Warriors took a combined 2:10, spanned 100 yards, and took only six plays. While the Buffaloes first touchdown drive was also three plays, spanned 44 seconds, and was capped off by a Michael Adkins 5-yard rushing touchdown.
The Warriors were able to bounce back from two turnovers themselves as they scored a late 27-yard field goal by Rigoberto Sanchez, his first career field goal and took an 18-14 lead into halftime.
The third quarter mirrored much of the first quarter as the two teams combined for a total of 146 yards of offense. Fortunately for the Warriors, they were able to extend their lead to 25-17 as Wittek found Isaiah Bernard on a 1-yard touchdown reception, his first as a Warrior.
As a myriad of offensive opportunities were squandered by both teams in the fourth quarter, the defenses continued to dictate the game. Sanchez’s second field goal of the game extended UH’s lead to 28-17. As the half continued to wind down the Buffaloes mounted a 42-yard scoring drive coming away with three points and closing the margin to 28-20. The Warriors stalled on their final drive, allowing the Buffaloes one last chance to send the game into overtime.
The Buffs started the drive on their own 39-yard line with 2:03 left and drove to the UH 6. Quarterback Sefo Liufau threw a short pass into the flat, however without a timeout remaining, the Buffs could not line up for one last play, allowing time to expire and UH to capture its first season-opening victory of the Norm Chow era.
Liufau went 23-of-40 for 158 yards passing while also rushing for 81 yards on 18 attempts. Adkins rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
With the win, the Rainbow Warriors snapped a 19-game losing streak on national television and won their season-opener for the first time since 2011.
UH will next play at defending national champion Ohio State, Saturday, Sept. 12, in Columbus, Ohio.