Hawaii Football Throwbacks: San Diego State

The first meeting between Hawaii and San Diego State in the islands remains UH's most lopsided win in the series. / Star-Advertiser file

Hawaii football has had its fair share of difficulties with San Diego State over the years.

But in the teams’ first meeting in the islands? Not so much.

The date: Dec. 7, 1940. The site: Old Honolulu Stadium. The score: Hawaii 33, San Diego State College 7.

If that date caught your eye, it’s because it was exactly a year before Hawaii would be attacked by Japan, launching America into World War II. While the front-page headlines of the day were dominated by world events — France was attempting to break a food blockade — events were far more simple halfway around the world. A friendly football game led the local news.

What took place stands as Hawaii’s most lopsided defeat over San Diego State in a series that’s gone 21-10-2 for the Aztecs, including last year’s 31-30 overtime win in San Diego.

A packed crowd of 22,000-plus took in the Shrine Game against SDSC, UH’s first meeting against a collegiate opponent that year.

After UH received the ball first, the Rainbows went 79 yards to score on their opening drive, capped with a 6-yard Joe Kaulukukui touchdown around the right end.

“It was obvious then that it was Hawaii’s day,” wrote Honolulu Advertiser sports editor Red McQueen.

Not so fast. The halfback Kaulukukui, who was otherwise spectacular, fumbled on the next UH drive and the Aztecs’ Wayne Nettles (who was later ejected for bringing “his elbows unnecessarily into the game”) recovered at the UH 28, setting up George Kita for a quarterback sneak from the 1 to tie the game.

UH would score 26 unanswered from there. Big Axel Silen had consecutive smashes through right guard for 9-yard pickups — he scored on the latter — to make it 13-7 at halftime.

Kaulukukui gained 137 of UH’s 340 yards from scrimmage, including a 31-yard touchdown on an option pitch to lead the second-half charge.

It was Eugene “Luke” Gill’s first of two years as head coach, succeeding Otto “Proc” Klum, whose years of tenure (19) and wins (84) are program highs. Gill’s group would go 2-5, including losses to Denver (19-16) and to Fresno State (3-0) to end the season.

Coach Leo Calland’s Aztecs were “highly touted,” McQueen wrote. “But the Rainbows, operating with clock-like precision, packed too many guns for the visitors.” McQueen noted that the Aztecs were missing some of their best backs for the game.

SDSC, later known as SDSU, ended the season with its most lopsided defeat of the year. It went 5-3-1 that year.

Here’s what appeared in the next day’s Honolulu Advertiser:
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