Hawaii Football Throwbacks: UNLV

Hawaii's win at UNLV in 1980 was the first of three straight for the Rainbows in Las Vegas. / Star-Advertiser file

Hawaii bids a less-than-fond farewell to Sam Boyd Stadium today.

UNLV’s traditional home, which is being retired in favor of the Raiders’ new NFL facility after this season, will play host to the Rainbow Warriors for the last time. UH hasn’t won at Sam Boyd since 2007, a losing streak of five.

It’s tough to beat the house.

But the Rainbow Warriors did in on Nov. 15, 1980, the second of five all-time wins in Vegas (against nine losses), played before a then-Nevada sports record crowd of 27,239.

Wrote the Honolulu Advertiser’s Ferd Lewis, “It came down to one final roll of the dice.”

UH stopped UNLV on the 3-yard line with 27 seconds left to preserve a 24-19 victory. Rebels quarterback Mark “The Magician” Gabrisch rolled out on fourth down and, under pressure from UH’s Blane Gaison on a safety blitz, shoveled the ball toward the end zone to no one in particular. He was called for intentional grounding on the play.

At the time, it was an extremely rare blemish for the Rebels at what was then known as the Silver Bowl. They’d had a two-year unbeaten run in the desert.

The Rainbows did the bulk of their damage in the first quarter, jumping out 21-0 with over five minutes still remaining in the first quarter. Quarterback Mike Stennis got UH in position for a 10-yard rushing score by Gary Allen. Reggie Robinson’s fumble recovery at the UNLV 15 set up Stennis’ 1-yard plunge. Then Stennis hit David Toloumu, who broke a listed five tackles to take it in from 17 yards.

It was still 24-3 for the visitors at halftime.

Gabrisch came on in relief of starter Larry Gentry and passed 14 of 23 for 182 yards, keying UNLV’s 19-0 run to get back in the game. On UNLV’s final drive, he converted first downs on fourth-and-6 and fourth-and-19 with passes.

Stennis, playing his second-to-last career game, finished passing 9-for-18 for 163 yards, with all but 12 coming in the first half. He was not intercepted.

Linebacker Steve Lehor had a key tackle for loss on a receiver that pushed the Rebels back six yards on third-and-7, limiting the hosts to a 40-yard field goal.

Rebels coach Tony Knap paid UH a high compliment afterward, saying, “I’d rather play Brigham Young University twice than Hawaii once in a season.”

UH improved to 7-3 and clinched its best Division I season with the win. Dick Tomey’s squad would go on to beat Air Force in the season finale for its first WAC season above .500 (4-3).

UNLV finished at 7-4, its last of eight straight winning seasons as an NCAA Independent (Division II for five of the years and I-A for three).

Here’s what appeared in the next day’s combined Honolulu Advertiser/Star-Bulletin:



  1. HawaiiMongoose November 16, 2019 12:47 pm

    Enjoyed the blast from the past, thanks Brian.

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