Everything seemed to come full circle on Saturday. If the page felt like it had only been slightly nudged to this point, I think it’s now been completely turned.
Facing the opponent that essentially forced Hawaii’s hand with its coaching decision, the Rainbow Warriors came back on three separate occasions to pick up a 34-27 road win against Air Force in double overtime.
The victory keeps Hawaii (4-4, 3-1 Mountain West) in second place within the conference’s West Division, one half game behind San Diego State (6-1, 3-0).
On Oct. 31, 2015, the ‘Bows were blasted 58-7 by Air Force in Aloha Stadium. That was the last day Norm Chow was employed as the team’s head coach. It was the team’s fifth straight conference defeat on its way to an 0-8 conference mark for the season.
What Saturday’s win proved is that disappointing year is now officially in the rear view. With head coach Nick Rolovich making the quarterback change and Dru Brown taking full advantage of his opportunity, Hawaii continues to pile up firsts. This is the first time since 2011 that the ‘Bows have two road victories in the same season. It’s the first time since 2011 the team has as many as three conference wins.
This was also Brown’s first game with over 300 yards passing in his young career. He wasn’t perfect, throwing a pair of interceptions, but Brown allowed his receivers to make plays and continued his budding relationship with wideout Marcus Kemp.
Kemp’s two touchdown grabs in overtime and double overtime were what ultimately gave Hawaii the emotional win. The ‘Bows went back and forth with the Falcons all day, but had to watch a short Air Force field goal attempt sail wide at the end of regulation. The miss breathed new life into their efforts, just as Rolovich and Brown have in 2016.
If last week’s loss to UNLV appeared to show some signs that Hawaii doesn’t yet know quite how to win and finish games, this week was a referendum on that assessment. Hawaii could have folded on a few occasions, but they continued to fight back and took full advantage of the the opportunities Air Force provided.
Without much of a running game on the day, Brown was asked to steady the offense, a task which he accepted and executed. His 37 pass attempts were a career high, as were his three touchdown strikes. Since he’s taken over as starter, Hawaii has scored 38, 34, 38 and 34 points. Everyone seems to be getting better and building more confidence, week to week.
There was a lot to like in Saturday’s win, but perhaps most of all was how Hawaii stayed together and maintained its belief. Those Air Force jerseys were a reminder of just how low this program was only a year ago. But instead of allowing those memories to create any self-doubt, the ‘Bows — with a bit of luck — overcame the mental road blocks and showed themselves to be a different team. Instead of a pair of gut-wrenching losses, Hawaii quickly turned the tide and now sets itself up for what should be an exciting second half to its Mountain West season.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.