Hawaii. BYU. You can’t ask for more of an interesting matchup than that when you’re plumbing the depths of Rainbow Warrior football history.
The BYU boys have gotten the better of the series overall, leading 22-8, including a perfect 9-0 in Provo, Utah, site of today’s game between the teams. Could fortunes change there today (4:15 p.m. kickoff, ESPN2) for a 6-1 UH team? We shall see.
Would you believe UH once led the series 4-1? But then came the infamous dry spell — a 10-game losing streak between 1978 and 1988. That’s what made the “Better Than Statehood” 56-14 breakthrough of 1989 (as the great Jim Leahey called it) so remarkable. Then there was the 59-28 follow-up beat-down of the No. 4 Cougars the next year at Aloha Stadium. The WAC championship squad of 1992’s 36-32 win made it three wins in four years.
But BYU won the next six, and left the WAC over that span. Finally, there came the 2001 meeting at Aloha Stadium with a BCS bowl on the line for the unbeaten Cougars. Nick Rolovich went off for eight touchdowns and Craig Stutzmann punted those dreams into the stands in UH’s emphatic 72-45 victory.
That stands as the last time UH beat BYU; there have been four meetings since.
Today we’re going to look at the 2002 meeting in Provo, as UH came oh-so-close to a breakthrough there. In fact, it’s tied (with 1993) for the closest the ‘Bows have gotten at LaVell Edwards Stadium, point-wise — a 35-32 loss in front of a roaring crowd of 63,000.
UH coach June Jones told the Honolulu Advertiser afterward, “We scored 32 points, and that’s pretty good. We had other chances, but we didn’t get it done. (The Cougars) did a good job. They have one of the best offenses in the country. You have to make plays to keep pace with them. We made plays. We just didn’t make enough of them.”
It was Sept. 6, just the second game of the season; the ‘Bows rung up a 61-36 win over Eastern Illinois the previous week. UH, behind running back Mike Bass, took and early 10-point lead. Bass had 80 yards rushing in the first quarter. Jason Whieldon spelled Tim Chang and found Neal Gossett for a 6-yard touchdown. That, and UH’s opening score, a field goal by Justin Ayat, were set up by high snaps by BYU.
Chang answered BYU’s first score with a 14-yard touchdown toss to Chad Owens.
Things steadily turned against the visitors. There was a missed field goal and a pick thrown near the Cougars’ red zone, among other missed opportunities. A thunderstorm in the second and third quarters symbolized the change in fortunes — but UH still led 17-14 at intermission.
“We could have all but put them away in the first half,” lamented offensive tackle Wayne Hunter. “We definitely had all the chances to.”
The Cougars played more effectively in the soggy field conditions, holding UH to 79 yards on the ground from the second quarter on and the run-and-shoot passing game in check. There was also a questionable play in the end zone, where BYU quarterback Bret Engemann was ruled to have just gotten a throwaway pass off under pressure in the end zone. UH argued it should’ve been a sack by La‘anui Correa.
BYU took an 11-point lead with under three minutes left.
But there was life for UH. After a Thero Mitchell 2-yard touchdown run, plus a 2-point conversion from Chang to Clifton Herbert, the ‘Bows were back in it down three with 32 seconds to play. They had a chance at an onside kick, but it was recovered by BYU’s Reno Mahe with 29.9 seconds left.
“I was scared,” Mahe said. “But we practiced that and practiced that, and it worked.”
BYU went for it on fourth down SIX times in the game, converting three.
BYU’s Marcus Whalen ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns, and backup quarterback Lance Pendleton — who replaced Engemann because of a stinger — put in two more with his legs. Defensive back Kip Nielsen had two interceptions of Chang, including one to open the second half that set up BYU’s go-ahead touchdown. Chang, who wore a brace for his broken pinkie, finished with four picks.
“That was a 14-point turnaround. I wish I could take that one back. I wish I could take all four back,” said Chang, who had 277 yards.
Mitchell had two touchdowns for UH, while Whieldon, in as a change-of-pace QB, had two touchdown throws on three attempts. UH outgained BYU 455 to 394, but the Cougars had no turnovers.
Wrote the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Kalani Simpson: “To play a game like this the second week of the season bodes well, no matter how much it hurts.”
UH would finish the regular season 10-3, and 7-1 for second in the WAC, before losing to Tulane in the Hawaii Bowl.
BYU, under coach Gary Crowton, improved to 2-0 after beating UH but finished a disappointing season at 5-7, including just 2-5 in the fledgling Mountain West Conference.
Here’s what appeared in the next day’s newspapers.