Count ’em, 50 times the Hawaii football team has taken on rival Fresno State prior to today’s matchup at Bulldog Stadium. That’s the most of any Rainbow Warriors opponent, leaving us with the biggest selection from which to choose the “Football Throwbacks” game of the week.
The teams first played in 1938 and also have the longest continuous series by year of any UH foe, having met for 26 straight years (27 including today) on a football field going back to 1992.
Until recently, the series was incredibly close, with the sides regularly alternating wins and losses by the year. But the Bulldogs, like many of UH’s Mountain West foes heading into this season, have gotten the better of it of late, winning six of the last seven to take a 27-22-1 overall lead. The exception was UH’s 14-13 win in Fresno two years ago, which improved UH’s mark in Fresno to 8-14-1 all-time.
That’s not long enough ago for our purposes here. So we’re going back a bit further — to Oct. 25, 2002.
At the time, UH had a miserable run of losses in Fresno. Its previous four games in the San Joaquin Valley, going back to ’93, were lost by a combined score of 161-60.
But this time, June Jones’ Warriors emerged with an ESPN2-televised 31-21 victory, the program’s first there since 1973. It was the first for UH in then-22-year-old Bulldog Stadium.
“This is probably the biggest win in my four years,” Jones told the Honolulu Advertiser afterward.
UH overcame a 21-9 deficit by scoring 22 unanswered in the fourth quarter.
“A Warrior doesn’t die. We forgot about pain and soreness. We felt none of that. Determination is the best medicine,” offensive lineman Uriah Moenoa said.
Quarterback Timmy Chang led the way, going 36-for-61 for a career-high 462 yards. The redshirt sophomore’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Britton Komine with 2:25 left — on fourth down and 4 — was the go-ahead score.
Chang had an interception near the FSU goal line earlier in the fourth quarter. But that night, frustrations were set aside — he was 1-5 in road starts going in — and he was able to focus on the task at hand.
“I looked at that as the biggest play of my career so far and took a deep breath,” Chang said. “A real deep breath.”
He credited former QB Nick Rolovich — who’d emerged the previous season to lead UH to a fantastic season and was at the game — with helping steady him from the sidelines.
Chang also had a 58-yard fourth-quarter TD pass to Justin Colbert on a post route. Colbert had the quote of the night afterward to the Advertiser’s Stephen Tsai.
“(Chang) put the ball right on the money. When I caught it, I told myself, ‘I’m not going to get caught.’ I’m supposed to be the fastest guy on the team, and I’m not going to get caught. I was running like crazy. If I got caught, I probably would be cut from the team. I would have gotten back up and kept running to San Francisco.”
That didn’t happen, and there was a coming-of-age narrative building for Chang, the Saint Louis School product, as he walked off the field that night.
“He made a name for himself out there,” O-lineman Vince Manuwai said.
Colbert caught 11 balls for 188 yards. His deep-ball TD opened up space for Chang on key underneath routes on the go-ahead drive.
The UH secondary stepped up big as well, with defensive back Kelvin Millhouse coming up with two fourth-quarter interceptions of Fresno redshirt freshman QB Paul Pinegar, including one with 1:32 left in the end zone that helped seal the outcome. UH running back John West broke free for 81 yards and a score in the final minute.
Kicker Justin Ayat had three field goals in the first half to keep the ‘Bows around, including a 50-yarder.
UH improved to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the WAC with the win, en route to a 10-4 (7-2 WAC) season.
Pat Hill’s smashmouth-style Bulldogs, who netted 166 yards on the ground, had a 27-4 record at home over six years going into the game. The frothing red-clad Fresno fans were silenced that night as their team dropped to 4-5 on the year (2-2 WAC), but the Bulldogs won out from there in their final five games, including against Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Football Classic to finish 9-5.
Here’s what appeared in the next day’s print editions of the two newspapers:
Advertiser Hawaii Fresno Oct. 26 2002 P1
Advertiser Hawaii Fresno Oct. 26 2002 P2
Advertiser Hawaii Fresno Oct. 26 2002 P3