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First Impressions

You know the old saying: You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. For the University of Hawaii football program, however, first impressions can be deceiving. In seven of the past 10 seasons, the Rainbow Warriors have opened their season against a Pac-12 opponents (winning twice versus Colorado). Before tomorrow’s season-opener against yet another Pac-12 school – the Arizona Wildcats – we thought we might look back at a decade’s worth of UH season debuts. Enjoy this little stroll down memory lane!

Hawaii’s full-fledged return to the run-and-shoot paid immediate dividends, as the Rainbow Warrior offense exploded for 43 points in a stunning 43-34 road victory over the Colorado Rams. Sophomore Cole McDonald threw for 418 yards – the most passing yards ever by a UH QB making his starting debut. In all, McDonald accounted for 5 TDs: 3 passing and 2 rushing.Placekicker Ryan Meskell contributed a trio of FGs (21, 30, 35). The UH offense went a perfect 7-for-7 in the red zone.

The Rainbow Warriors kicked off their 2017 season with a first-ever trip to Amherst, Massachusetts. The trip marked the team’s longest trip east (more than 5,000 miles) in program history. It was a successful trip, however, as QB Dru Brown’s 7-yard TD pass to TE Tui Unga with just 48 seconds left in the game gave UH a 38-35 win over the Minutemen. Sophomore receiver John Ursua had a brilliant game, snaring 12 receptions for 272 yards and a score. On defense, LB Jahlani Tavai led the team with 13 tackles.

It was a history-making season opener for the Rainbow Warriors, as the team played its first game on foreign soil. Billed as “The Sydney Cup,” the game was competitive in the early going, as big plays by WR Marcus Kemp (39-yd. TD reception from Ikaika Woolsey) and Diocemy Saint Juste (53-yd. TD run) kept UH in the thick of things in the first quarter. Cal pulled away with a 17-0 second quarter, however, and the Bears ultimately prevailed, 51-31, spoiling Nick Rolovich’s head coaching debut. Ironically, one of the Cal scores was a TD reception by WR Melquise Stovall, who now plays for UH.

September 3, 2015: HAWAII VS COLORADO
For the only time in his four seasons at UH, head coach Norm Chow opened the season with a win, as Hawaii beat the Colorado Buffaloes, 28-20, at Aloha Stadium. QB Max Wittek, a transfer from USC, passed for 202 yards and 3 TDs, including a 79-yd. strike to WR Marcus Kemp in the second quarter. The UH defense forced 3 Colorado turnovers, including a crucial interception by LB Julian Genner. It was Hawaii’s first victory in a season opener since 2011. The win also snapped a 19-game UH losing streak on national television.

August 30, 2014: HAWAII VS No. 25 WASHINGTON
In front of some 36,000 home fans, the Rainbow Warriors nearly pulled off a upset over the nationally ranked Huskies, but U-Dub prevailed, 17-16. Hawaii actually outgained the Huskies in offensive yardage (424 to 336) and didn’t commit a turnover. RB Joey Iosefa paced the UH attack with 143 yards on 30 carries. UH got off to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but Washington scored 17 straight points. The UH defense, stubborn all game long, was not able to stop Washington’s final drive, and the Huskies ran out the clock to seal the win.

August 29, 2013: HAWAII VS No. 24 USC
Hawaii hung tough with the nationally ranked Trojans – they led 5-3 heading into the second quarter – but surrendered 17 straight points to the visitors en route to a 30-13 loss at Aloha Stadium. The UH offense could only muster 23 yards on the ground. The starting QB for UH was Tayler Graham, who made his first start at the FBS level. Graham was sacked 7 times and picked off 4 times. He did manage to throw a 60-yd. TD to receiver Keith Kirkwood, who is now with the New Orleans Saints. USC’s offense was led by receivers Marqise Lee (104 receiving yards) and Nelson Agholor (35 yards, 1 TD), who are now with the Jackwonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.

September 3, 2012: HAWAII AT No. 1 USC
It was an impossibly difficult debut for new UH head coach Norm Chow, as Hawaii kicked off the 2012 season with a road game at No. 1 USC. 93,706 fans packed the L.A. Coliseum to watch the Trojans dismantle the outmanned Rainbow Warriors, 49-10. USC led 35-0 at halftime, but Hawaii scored first in the second half with a 35-yd TD pass from Sean Schroeder to Scott Harding. PK Tyler Hadden later booted a 35-yd. FG to complete Hawaii’s point total. It was a disappointing homecoming for Chow, who served as USC’s offensive coordinator from 2001 through 2004.

September 3, 2011: HAWAII VS COLORADO
UH senior QB Bryant Moniz rushed for 3 scores, leading the Rainbow Warriors to an impressive 34-17 win over the Pac-12’s Colorado Buffaloes. Moniz also completed a 22-yd. shovel pass to RB Joey Iosefa for a fourth-quarter TD that sealed the game for Hawaii. Moniz’s 121 yards on the ground was the most by a UH QB in 15 years (Glenn Freitas ran for 122 yards against UTEP in 1995). Every member of the UH offensive line – Sean Shigematsu, Andrew Fa ‘aumu, Sila Lefiti, Brett Leonard and Clayton Laurel – was making his first career start at UH.

September 2, 2010: HAWAII VS No. 14 USC
In a special Thursday night season opener, Hawaii managed to put up 588 yards of total offense, but it wasn’t enough as the nationally ranked Trojans pulled away from the home team, 49-36. USC QB Matt Barkley tied a a school record with 5 TDs, including 3 to senior wideout Ronald Johnson. For UH, three different receivers amassed 100-yd. games: Kealoha Pilares (176), Greg Salas (124) and Royce Pollard (107). On the defensive side, safety Mana Silva led the way with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.

After making his UH coaching debut against No. 5 Florida the previous season, UH head coach Greg McMackin figured to have a much easier go of it in the 2009 season opener against FCS school Central Arkansas. However, it took an 8-yd. TD pass from QB Greg Alexander to WR Ronald Bradley with just 1:22 left in the game to lift the Rainbow Warriors to a narrow 25-20 victory. Alexander led the UH offense with 304 passing yards and 3 scores. Corey Paredes was the defensive hero for Hawaii; his sack on UCA QB Robbie Park forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Richard Torres in the game’s final minute.

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