HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the Rainbow Warriors traveled to ‘The Blue’ earlier this season, losing big to Boise State, the team’s players didn’t even wait until they got into the locker room after the game before they told Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich that he should keep his bad packed for a return trip later in the year.
“It was a little but it a surprise to hear it so soon after the game,” Rolovich said during Friday’s press conference at Albertson’s Stadium, ahead of the Mountain West Conference Championship. “A couple (players) came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to get back here.’ I said that we had a long way to go.”
And a long way they’ve come. Since falling 59-37 to the Broncos in early October, Hawaii has posted a 5-2 record — including four straight wins to end the regular season.
Known for their potent run-and-shoot offense, Rolovich told reporters that it was his defense, in large part, that had stirred that success.
“Holding a couple of team’s to just a touchdown, or the San Diego State game, UNLV ... we won those games on defense. That had not happened this year.”
Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin, speaking to reporters during a separate press conference just before Hawaii’s contingent arrived, noted that the Rainbow Warriors weren’t the only team that had grown since their October match-up.
“Football is a developmental game, and every week, you have a new challenge and new opportunities in front of you,” Harsin said. “I’ve seen our guys attack that. I’ve seen our guy take on the challenges. I’ve seen our guys in the ups and downs of the season and find ways to still come out on top.”
In that regard, the Broncos are a lot like Hawaii ― though their motivations are as starkly different from Hawaii’s as their blue turf is from the green fields you find most everywhere else.
When Rainbow Warriors linebacker Solomon Matautia was asked whether the 59 points Hawaii allowed to Boise State during their contest in October has fueled Hawaii in the games since, he had a simple answer.
“Yes, it has," Matautia said, smiling wryly.
Junior quarterback Cole McDonald says the combination of the bitterness of October’s loss, and the opportunity to win Hawaii’s first Mountain West Conference championship, has driven everyone on the Rainbow Warrior roster.
“It’s a special feeling. A lot of our buddies are done playing this year, and to have an opportunity to come out here and play (is) everything you ask for,” McDonald said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”
Kickoff against Boise State is set for 11 a.m. Hawaii time on Saturday morning. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.