There’s a lot on the line on senior night tonight against UNLV. A winning regular season, a Hawaii Bowl berth, and a general sense of accomplishment for the Rainbow Warriors are all at stake for a team that’s lost four straight.
UH leads the all-time series against UNLV 15-12, but the Rebels have taken the meeting the last three years.
Back on Sept. 29, 1984, UH was also sliding into its home date with Vegas. Dick Tomey’s team was 0-3, having lost to Cal State Fullerton, Colorado State and No. 4 BYU. It was actually a five-game losing streak going back to the end of the 1983 season.
End that streak the Rainbows did, thanks to a stalwart defensive performance from Kurt Kafentzis, the all-around play of quarterback Raphel Cherry and the leg of Richard Spelman.
This game includes one of the greatest quote sequences of this entire season of “Football Throwbacks.”
Per Ferd Lewis’ story on the long-awaited victory:
“It feels good,” UH coach Dick Tomey said.
Said Spelman: “It’s the greatest. It’s better than sex.”
Added Tomey, “We needed this more than anything.”
Spelman had reason to celebrate. He made kicks of 22, 25 and 40 yards in front of the crowd of about 38,000.
Kafentzis, the free safety, picked off the UNLV quarterback twice — a guy you may have heard of, Randall Cunningham — including one at the UH 9 with 1:50 to play that effectively ensured victory. UH ran down the clock to 10 seconds then took an intentional safety.
On that key play, Cunningham was hit by UH lineman Colin Scotts as he threw a wobbly pass on third and 21.
“If he had thrown it deep I think I’d have intercepted it anyway, because I had a good position,” the 6-2 Kafentzis, a wide receiver his first two years at UH, told the Advertiser’s Andy Yamaguchi.
Kafentzis, one of four brothers to play for UH, had received some advice from future UH head coach Bob Wagner, who was then the Rainbows’ defensive coordinator.
“Coach Wagner told me I’d get a lot more balls catching interceptions than receiving. And I kind of missed the hitting,” Kafentzis said. “I’m following in (older brother) Mark’s footsteps.”
Cherry ran in UH’s only touchdown of the game, a 3-yarder in the second quarter for a 10-3 lead. Vegas would get the seven points back in the third on a 62-yard ball by Cunningham, but that was it for UNLV other than a field goal and the safety UH conceded.
UH gained 203 yards on the ground, including a team-high 78 by Cherry. Cherry, who was convicted of murder back in 2001, was voted the No. 18 player in the Star-Bulletin’s “Centurions” series in 2009. On this night, he had no interceptions to Cunningham’s three.
It turned out to be a great win for UH. That was one of only two losses all year for coach Harvey Hyde and UNLV (11-2), which went unbeaten (7-0) in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (the forerunner of the Big West). That, in fact, stands as UNLV’s only conference championship to date in football.
The Rainbows seized upon their change in fortunes to launch a seven-game winning streak that propelled them to a second-place finish in the WAC (5-2). UH would end the year at 7-4 with a 17-6 loss to Iowa in a sold-out Aloha Stadium, however.
Here’s how the next day’s Honolulu Advertiser/Star-Bulletin combo edition looked. The jump page (B-6, inside for the continued stories) was not available, so apologies for that, but there is a second sports front page from an earlier edition of the paper that had to go out that night. (The updated version is called a “replate” in newsroom parlance.)