Even though BYU is no longer a regular opponent on the University of Hawaii football schedule, many Rainbow Warrior fans still consider the Cougars to be a bitter rival. The two schools have met 32 times, with BYU holding a rather lopsided 23-9 series advantage. When both programs were part of the Western Athletic Conference, they played regularly from the late 1970s through the late 1990s. Former receiver Walter Murray, who played for UH from 1982 through 1985, once remarked, “BYU was the only team we could never beat the whole time I was at UH. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand them. I even hated Danny Ainge, and he didn’t even play football.”
The Hawaii-BYU rivalry has it all: unbelievable plays and controversial calls, near misses and spectacular blowouts, agonizing defeats and, yes, exhilarating victories. We’ve chosen our Top Five Hawaii-BYU games of all time. Coincidentally, all five contests took place at Aloha Stadium. Not coincidentally, these games featured some of the greatest Rainbow Warriors of all time, from Noga and Miano to Owens and McDonald. Here’s our five, in ascending order:
NUMBER FIVE: September 22, 1984. BYU 18, HAWAII 13. Yes, our list starts with one of the most painful memories in UH football history. On this night, the Rainbow Warriors came thisclose to beating their conference rival for the first time since 1974. But QB Raphel Cherry’s fourth-down pass to the end zone with 40 seconds left in the game slipped through the hands of receiver Walter Murray. This was a game full of big plays, including a blocked punt by David Aguilar, who recovered the ball in the end zone for Hawaii’s first score. Safety Rich Miano picked off a Robbie Bosco pass to help set up a UH FG by Richard Spelman at the end of the first half. Also, defensive lineman Al Noga’s blocked punt with 1:01 left in the game gave Hawaii the ball at the BYU 17, setting up the Rainbow Warriors last-gasp scoring opportunity. Then the No. 4 team in the country, the Cougars would go on to win the national championship that season with perfect 13-0 record. In his book, “Rise of the Rainbow Warriors,” then-head coach Dick Tomey recalled the somber scene in the postgame locker room: “There was dead silence. I looked around and saw all the guys in tears. They were devastated. They were broken. For the first time in my coaching career, I didn’t know what to say.”
NUMBER FOUR: December 1, 1990. HAWAII 59, BYU 28. Earlier in the day, Cougar QB Ty Detmer was awarded college football’s most coveted prize, the Heisman Trophy. By the end of the night, however, it was Hawaii’s Garrett Gabriel who was doing the celebrating. Playing his final game as a Rainbow Warrior, the senior QB passed for 359 yards and 3 TDs, adding 51 rushing yards and another score. His aerial scores included a 29-yard strike to Dane McArthur, a 22-yard pass to Brian Gordon and a 17-yard dart to Jeff Sydner. UH RB Jamal Farmer added 3 rushing TDs. As for Detmer, he had a night to forget, throwing 4 INTs – 3 to safety Kenny Harper. One of the game’s more memorable moments came right after Sydner’s TD. The flashy UH slotback handed the ball to an official and then struck a Heisman pose in the end zone. “It was something I thought about last year and it was something I wanted to do,” he told the Honolulu Advertiser after the game. It was Hawaii’s second consecutive victory over the Cougars, who came into the game with a No. 4 ranking. Trivia Note: Bob Wagner is the only UH head coach to have beaten BYU on multiple occasions; he did it in 1989, 1990 and the Holiday Bowl season in 1992.
NUMBER THREE: December 24, 2019. HAWAII 38, BYU 34. Last season marked the first time that Hawaii and BYU locked horns in the postseason. The Rainbow Warriors gave the home fans a Christmas Eve present, beating the Cougars in a thrilling SoFi Hawaii Bowl contest. Hawaii QB Cole McDonald threw for 493 yards and 4 TDs, including the game-winning strike to Nick Mardner with 1:17 left in the game. McDonald, in what turned out to be his last game in a Rainbow Warrior uniform, added another TD via a 1-yard run. The UH defense stepped up when it counted, holding BYU without a TD in their final six possessions. McDonald dedicated the win to UH linebacker Scheyenne Sanitoa, who passed away on July 1. “All glory to God and all the brothers on my team,” McDonald told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Everybody put it on the line, and was ballin’. This was for Schey.”
NUMBER TWO: December 8, 2001. HAWAII 72, BYU 45. For Rainbow Warrior fans, nothing is sweeter than crushing BYU’s hopes for a perfect season. Hawaii accomplished exactly that on this day, blowing out the No. 9-ranked Cougars and setting a program record for points in a single game (72). BYU arrived in Honolulu with a spotless 12-0 record, and the team voiced their displeasure at being left out of a major bowl game. “They were complaining about having to go to the Liberty Bowl,” said UH receiver Channon Harris, who scored 3 TDs in the game. “We don’t even have a bowl game, and they’re complaining. Go figure.” Hawaii’s offensive onslaught was led by QB Nick Rolovich, who passed for 543 yards and 8 TDS – both school records. Future NFL receiver Ashley Lelie scored twice, including an 80-yard catch-and-run late in the third quarter. Then there were the contributions of a young redshirt freshman named Chad Owens, who became the first UH player to have a kickoff return for a TD and a punt return for a TD in the same game. What’s more, his 342 total return yards for the game shattered the previous NCAA mark of 284 yards. At the end of the game, the Aloha Stadium crowd mocked the Cougars, chanting, “Over-rated! Over-rated!” Then-UH President Evan Dobelle disagreed. “This isn’t about BYU overrated,” he said. “This is about Hawaii being underrated.” Indeed. The Rainbow Warriors’ explosive performance and 9-3 season record would pave the way for the SoFi Hawaii Bowl, which debuted the following season.
NUMBER ONE: October 28, 1989. HAWAII 56, BYU 14. Euphoria. Jubilation. Ecstasy. These are just three of the emotions experienced by the sold-out Aloha Stadium crowd on this magical night – the night Hawaii finally beat BYU after 10 straight losses. The performance even impressed the Cougars’ head coach, LaVell Edwards, who marveled after the game, “They executed flawlessly.” The UH defense completely shutdown the Cougars’ ground game, holding BYU to – get this – minus-55 rushing yards for the night. The D also sacked QB Ty Detmer a school record 10 times – including 4 by linebacker Mark Odom. Safety Walter Briggs picked off Detmer twice. The Hawaii offense, meanwhile, put up a school record 622 yards against their rival. QB Garrett Gabriel led the attack with 440 passing yards and 4 TDs, including a screen pass to RB Jamal Farmer in the first quarter that went for an 83-yard score. Rainbow Warriors Chris Roscoe, Jeff Newman, Richard Stevenson and Darrick Branch all found the end zone. And placekicker Jason Elam was a perfect 8 for 8 in PATs. It was simply a game where everything seemed to go right for the team in green. Don’t believe us? Watch this video:
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