Well, we didn’t see this coming.
All year the Rainbow Warriors’ defense has been giving up yards and points to every opponent, limping to a 6-7 record going into the Hawaii Bowl. The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State had been slicing through opponents with their high octane offense.
Both stat lines happened, just not in the way it was expected.
An explosive first quarter saw the Blue Raiders doing what they do best. A 20 yard scamper by I’Tavius Mathers and a two play drive capped off by a 51 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brent Stockstill to wideout Richie James put MTSU up 14-0 to start the game. After a punt by Hawaii, Middle Tennesee got the ball back and was driving until a sack by Ikem Okeke forced Stockstill to fumble, giving the ball back to Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors would then strike on the next play with an 18 yard strike from Dru Brown to wide receiver Metuisela 'Unga to put Hawaii on the board. The turnovers would continue to haunt the Blue Raiders as Brent Stockstill was picked off, leading to a Steven Lakalaka one yard score that evened the game at 14 a piece.
Quarter two saw the Rainbow Warriors continue their momentum with quarterback Dru Brown leading an eight play, 80 yard drive by getting in with a two yard run. What set the tone for the game was the unexpected exceptional play of Hawaii’s defense as personified by a 68 yard pick-six by Trayvon Henderson, upping the Hawaii lead to 28-14. Middle Tennessee State drove down with their own 80 yard drive when Ty Lee caught a three yard strike from Stockstill to cut the Warriors’ lead to 28-21. With 22 seconds left on the scoreboard, a late first half drive by Hawaii led to a 39 yard strike from Dru Brown to Marcus Kemp to give Hawaii a 35-21 lead going into halftime.
The second half started a little differently than the first as the sporadic scoring was replaced by long drives. Hawaii scored a field goal but were answered by the Blue Raiders in the form of a 75 yard drive ending with a Stockstill to Dennis Andrews 10 yard touchdown connection cutting Hawaii’s lead to 38-28. But Hawaii put the clamps down with a 12 play, 75 yard drive ending with ‘Unga’s second receiving touchdown on a 12 yard strike from Dru Brown.
Hawaii carried a 45-28 lead going into the fourth quarter. MTSU struck first with a three play, 55 yard drive in just 1:15 as Ty Lee kept the Blue Raiders in the game with a 13 yard reception from Brent Stockstill to cut the Rainbow Warriors lead to 45-35. Hawaii answered with another long drive led by the running of Diocemy Sainte Juste capped off by a four yard touchdown strike by Dru Brown. A stalled MTSU drive and a failed late fourth down conversion all but sealed the Hawaii Bowl’s fate.
The win gave first year Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich a 7-7 record and the Rainbow Warriors’ first bowl game win since the 2006 Hawaii Bowl. Middle Tennessee State drops to 8-5 after a record breaking offensive season marred by injuries.