Cole McDonald has an arm. With a touchdown here, and a touchdown there, McDonald now stands fourth in the University of Hawaiʻi football team’s record books for career touchdown passes with 50. McDonald is in rarefied air, trailing only Bryant Moniz, Timmy Chang, and of course, the mythical Colt Brennan in career touchdowns.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence as those great players is definitely an honor,” McDonald said. “I’m just so thankful for the guys around me, for the coaching staff believing in me, and just playing hard and playing that Hawaiʻi football that everybody knows.”
Coming into the game, McDonald trailed former ‘Bows quarterback Garrett Gabriel in the record books by just one touchdown toss. He more than made up the difference, picking up 4 touchdowns through the air to go with 300 passing yards and another 31 yards on the ground. He did well to spread the wealth, finding a different receiver on each one of his touchdowns. Junior transfer Jared Smart and true freshman Lincoln Victor each hauled in their first career touchdowns, while senior Biletnikoff watchlist receivers Cedric Byrd II and JoJo Ward both added to their season tally with a touchdown each.
Led by McDonald, the Rainbow Warriors (3-1) picked the lopsided 35-16 win on Homecoming night against the visiting Central Arkansas Bears Saturday at Aloha Stadium. The team was able to bounce back from the drubbing it received at the hands of Washington to pick up a much-needed win before heading back out on the road.
“We won ugly,” head coach Nick Rolovich said. “[Central Arkansas] is a good football team. I appreciated the effort of our team and our coaches. It’s good to get a win on Homecoming. It’s nice to be 3-1 heading into conference play.”
Hawaiʻi opened the game with a beauty from McDonald, as he found Jared Smart down the sideline for a 22-yard pass on the first offensive play of the game. The ‘Bows were clearly trying to establish the ground game early though, as the deep completion was one of only two throws on the drive as opposed to four runs. The ploy soon backfired, as the fourth carry turned into a Miles Reed fumble. With Central Arkansas holding the ball in good field position and eager to get on the board first, the Bears decided to take a risk early and went for it on fourth down and short. The move backfired, as redshirt freshman Kai Kaneshiro picked up his second career interception and took it 55-yards to the house for the first touchdown of the game.
The Rainbow Warriors offense shifted gears on the next drive. Operating out of an empty backfield for most of the drive, McDonald led the ‘Bows down the field with completions of 11, 10, and 9 yards to three different receivers. McDonald also tacked on a 21-yard rush on the drive. With Hawai’i on the edge of the 10-yard line and needing a yard to convert, McDonald found true freshman receiver Lincoln Victor for a 6-yard reception, the first catch of his career. On the very next play, senior receiver JoJo Ward came free in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown reception to give Hawaiʻi a two touchdown advantage.
The defense responded with a quick three and out to put the ball back in McDonald’s hands. McDonald’s first pass of the second quarter was nearly picked off as a deep pass to Smart in the end zone was tipped up in the air. The ball ultimately flew harmlessly out of bounds. McDonald would not waste his second chance, tucking the ball for a 13-yard run before finding Smart in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown, the first of his UH career.
Central Arkansas finally found some of their offensive groove on the following drive, reaching the 50-yard line for the first time in the game. The Bears wouldn’t be able to cross the midfield line however, as a false start called on “everyone but the center” backed the team up. On 3rd & 15, UCA quarterback Breylin Smith just barely avoided the sack by crossing the goal line and picking up a yard.
On the next drive, McDonald picked up where he left off, dialing up two 20-yard completions to Smart to lead the ‘Bows down the field. The drive was eventually wrapped up on a 13-yard touchdown pass from McDonald to senior receiver Cedric Byrd II. Offensively, Central Arkansas finally crossed midfield for the first time, driving the ball down to the goal line on their next possession. Bears running back Carlos Blackman lined up behind center in the wildcat formation, which turned out to be a trick play as Blackman threw a 4-yard touchdown to teammate Sam Carmargo. The ensuing PAT was blocked.
After a three and out for the offense, the Hawaiʻi defense got the job done to force a Central Arkansas punt. Smart, filing in for injured returner Melquise Stovall, muffed the punt for the second time in the game. This time, it took a UCA bounce as a Bears special teamer was able fall on the ball to give them one last chance to put first half points on the board. After a first down sack, the Bears decided to settle for a field goal to make it 28-6 at halftime.
On the ‘Bows’ first offensive drive of the second half, McDonald was picked off on a deep throw intended for Smart in the end zone. The pick was his ninth of the season, just one shy of his total for all of last season. It also meant that McDonald has thrown at least one interception in every game so far this season.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” McDonald said. “After watching film, it’s crazy to see, if we can limit those turnovers, how explosive our offense can be.”
To start the fourth quarter, Central Arkansas was able to put the ball in the end zone on a 23-yard Carlos Blackman carry, putting pressure on Hawaiʻi and making it a two touchdown game. The next ‘Bows drive was a short one, as Reed’s 21-yard carry on the first play ended abruptly with a disastrous fumble. Nothing came of it, as the Rainbow Warrior defense was able to force a punt to give the offense a chance to seal the game.
The Hawaiʻi offense delivered on that chance, driving down the field as McDonald found four different receivers for completions. A standout of the drive was Victor, who fought through contact to make his second career catch a 16-yard one. Victor repeated the effort on the next play, forcing his way into the end zone on a check down pass for a 11-yard touchdown, the first of his young career.
With the game all but over, Central Arkansas remained determined to put one last touchdown on the board. The bears steadily made their way down the field, but the drive eventually stalled on the Hawaiʻi 13-yard line, as the fourth and short conversion fell harmlessly to the turf. With less than half a minute on the clock, the ‘Bows took a knee and began to celebrate their homecoming 35-16 victory.
The Rainbow Warriors move to 3-1 on the season following the win over Central Arkansas. Next up, Hawaiʻi will travel to Reno, Nevada to open conference play against the Nevada Wolfpack.
“Not good. Not happy,” Rolovich said of the mood in the locker room following the win. “ That’s the worst feeling I’ve ever [felt] in the locker room after a win. I think there was a lot of disappointment. They’re happy we got a win…I think they all know we could have played better and made more plays. I think they all know what we have coming up with conference games. Every week until we end this season is going to be a real challenge.”
The ‘Bows take on Nevada at Mackay Stadium on Sep. 28 at 4:30 p.m. HST.