As the Albertsons Stadium public address announcer wished the remnants of a school-record crowd of 36,902 an exuberant “Good morning!” at 12:10 Sunday (Mountain Time), University of Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich trudged toward the locker boom tunnel.
“Whew,” Rolovich exhaled, not bothering to look up a final time at a scoreboard that still flashed: Boise State 59, Hawaii 37.
With that, Rolovich joined the list of Rainbow Warrior head coaches who had trod the same path, men for whom the blues do not just refer to the color of the artificial turf on the playing field here.
Like Norm Chow, Greg McMackin and, yes, even June Jones before him, Rolovich arrived with high hopes and left with audible frustration piercing the 38-degree air.
“This is what Boise has built,” Rolovich said respectfully. “They have built an environment that is as tough as we are going to go into and play. And, they have earned this right to have this home-field advantage. The whole community is involved. The fans are involved. And, this is kind of the benchmark. “
And, for the seventh time in their history, the Warriors did not measure up. For on a homecoming night when they needed their “A” game, the now 4-2 (1-1 Mountain West Conference) Rainbows delivered a whole lot less. They turned the ball over four times — three on fumbles — which the 14th-ranked Broncos recycled into 21 points. They committed an uncharacteristic 10 penalties for 88 yards — 8 for 68 in a wobbly first quarter — that scuttled their own drives and aided those of the unbeaten (6-0, 3-0 MWC) Broncos.
Though one of them in particular, a second-quarter fumble when quarterback Cole McDonald’s arm appeared to be throwing the ball, was curious.
Asked about it, Rolovich bit his tongue and said, “Maybe you have to interview those guys in the stripes.”
And Hawaii dropped four passes.
“The drops came at some critical times,” Rolovich said. “We have to make those plays, especially against a good football team.”
Because they couldn’t, the Warriors were down 14-0 before they knew what hit them and staring at a 31-7 deficit before the first half had ended. Thanks to the turnovers and penalties, the Broncos only had to go an average of 36.2 yards for each of their first-half scores.
It was a mark of Hawaii’s desperation to get back in the game that, down 17-7 in the second quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 35. Running back Miles Reed was thrown for a 6-yard loss.
Even when the Warriors might have thought they had caught a break, it didn’t turn out that way.
Linebacker Kana’i Picanco knocked Broncos’ starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier out of the game with a hit to the body with 10 minutes, 58 seconds left in the second quarter. But Bachmeier’s two replacements, Chase Cord and Jaylon Henderson, combined to complete 18 of 28 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
Hawaii was also unable to be more than a speed bump for receiver John Hightower, who caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, no matter who was throwing to him.
In the end, for all the mystique of “The Blue” and the Broncos’ efficiency and mastery, the Warriors knew they had largely done themselves in.
“It was just us,” McDonald said. “It was just us shooting ourselves in the foot, no way around it.”