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College football: Hawaii’s ‘Ninth Island’ has become Devil’s Island for Warriors

November 1, 2017 - 12:05am

Sure, Las Vegas is referred to as Hawaii’s “Ninth Island,” but for the University of Hawaii football team it has been more like a trip to Devil’s Island in recent seasons.

The Rainbow Warriors, who have gone into Sam Boyd Stadium as much as a 17.5-point favorite on the betting lines, have not won in their past four visits and managed to leave with a victory just once in seven trips.

As UH prepares for Saturday’s return, the desert struggles make for a curious case study to ponder. Especially considering Boyd Stadium isn’t nearly as hostile an environment as, say, Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium, and the Rebels’ winning seasons have been a whole lot fewer and much farther between.

In Fresno, the ‘Bows have won more often and against better, even nationally ranked, teams. In fact, the crowds at Boyd Stadium — when there is a crowd rattling around in the metal bleachers — are often composed of 40 percent, or more, UH fans and Hawaii transplants.

But none of the three head or interim coaches who have preceded the current coach, Nick Rolovich, have managed winning records in Las Vegas. Even June Jones, UH’s winningest head coach, was just .500 there.

Dick Tomey did the best, going 2-1 and even blanking a UNLV team quarterbacked by Randall Cunningham 23-0 in 1983.

But those are distant memories these days. The last time UH won was in the course of the Sugar Bowl season of 2007, when an injured Colt Brennan nevertheless ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more in three quarters of work.

In only one of those last seven seasons (2013) have the Rebels managed a winning season. Three times UNLV has managed three victories or fewer in the season, including its triumphs over UH.

Along the way, the ‘Bows have lost frustratingly close at 34-33 (2009) and 39-37 (2013) as time expired. They’ve also gone down lopsidedly 41-21 (2015) and 40-20 (2011) in games where the outcome was no longer in doubt by the third quarter.

Other schools have managed to leave with a victory, with UNLV going just 8-13 at home against visiting teams other than UH in seasons when the ‘Bows have ventured in.

Over the years UH has pitched its headquarters in various places there, including in suburban Summerlin, in attempts to avoid the night life and accompanying distractions. It has sometimes come in later or gone in plenty early, but there has been little impact on improving the record.

Greg McMackin, among UH head coaches, suffered the most for losing there, his 2011 loss serving as the tipping point in the final season of his four-year tenure, just one season removed from a 10-4 finish.

The beginning of the end for him came as a 17.5-point favorite in Las Vegas, where he also owned a home. The unseemly stumble toward a 40-20 loss to a UNLV team that would go just 2-10 prompted a dust storm of tour buses hurrying to take fans back to the casinos early in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for McMackin, among the throngs of vocal, disappointed UH faithful who made their way to the game that year were the UH president, M.R.C. Greenwood, and several members of the administration and the school’s Board of Regents. UH officials got an earful from fans, some of whom likely lost money.

UH’s bedevilment was underlined in Fred vonAppen’s only trip as head coach (1997), a 25-15 loss. In that one UH somehow managed to win the coin toss and yet defer in both halves.

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