All but one game of Hawaii’s football history against Rice took place during a six-year stretch as Western Athletic Conference opponents between 1999 and 2004.
It’s been a sticky series for UH. Houston-based Rice leads the series 5-2 (it took four of six of the WAC meetings), including 2-1 at Hawaii.
Today we’re focusing on the 2001 meeting at Aloha Stadium, the most closely contested of the bunch. The Owls won, 27-24, in an emotionally charged game that took place just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The game became especially notable for what happened to quarterback Tim Chang and what came next for UH.
Fans attending the game, the first at home since the attacks, were reportedly filled with patriotic spirit, many attempting to wave paper flags in the stands despite heavy rain.
Tougher security measures were introduced for the game. Bags and umbrellas of large size were banned for the first time, but inconsistently from entrance to entrance, frustrating some people.
UH, behind Chang, who entered the game as the NCAA leader in total offense, and receiver Ashley Lelie, bursted to a 21-7 halftime lead. The two connected for touchdowns twice.
It would not stand up.
Rover Dan Dawson was the all-purpose star for Rice; he had 12.5 tackles, including four four loss, and a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown that cut UH’s third-quarter lead from 24-14 to 24-21. Dawson, who picked off Chang three times in Houston the previous year, deflected another Chang pass in the third that allowed a teammate to pick it. He even blocked a field goal attempt by Justin Ayat, which proved key.
Kicker Brandon Skeen, a kickoff specialist who stepped in for the Owls’ primary placekicker, hit two field goals in the fourth to tie and then win it, after missing his first three tries of the night. The go-ahead points came on a 26-yarder with 2:26 left.
It was a painful game in general for UH (1-2, 0-2 WAC); hard-hitting safety Nate Jackson was knocked out of the fray early with a concussion.
“We had a lot of bad things happen to us,” coach June Jones told the Honolulu Advertiser.
Chang was injured early in the fourth quarter on a hit by Nick Sabula, rolling over his right (throwing) wrist trapped underneath himself. The sophomore, who discovered he could not throw effectively, gave way to Jared Flint and sat the final 10 minutes with what was diagnosed that night as a sprain. He finished with 362 yards passing, two touchdowns and three picks.
Rice coach Ken Hatfield also had to call on backups; Greg Henderson went in for Kyle Herm, who was concussed on Rice’s second possession running the wishbone offense. In fact, freshman Joe Moore spelled Henderson because of cramps to Henderson.
The Owls improved to 3-1 (1-0 WAC) en route to an 8-4 (5-3) season.
Lelie was the star of the game for the Warriors, with a career game to that point, hauling in 11 passes for 181 yards and the two TDs.
Chang’s injury would endure, but UH would go on to win the next week’s game 38-31 in overtime at SMU behind a replacement starter who should sound familiar … Nick Rolovich. In fact, the Warriors would win eight of its next nine with Rolovich at the controls, capped with the resounding 72-45 win over BYU in a 9-3 season.
Here’s PDFs of the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin the next day.