HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 'Bows held their first home game of the 2020 season on Saturday, getting their first home victory in the ‘Todd Graham’ era defeating New Mexico, 39-33.
Even though the Warrior sideline was jumping, the stands of Aloha Stadium were completely motionless, due to COVID-19 restrictions the seats in Halawa were filled with cardboard cutouts and a few cameramen.
Head coach Todd Graham was not a fan of the fan-less experience on Saturday, saying that the size of his new home field made the environment even more surreal.
“I hated not having fans here and I do think that it was strange.” Head coach Todd Graham told reporters after Saturday’s game. “At Fresno they played music the whole time, they played crowd noise here, but (Aloha Stadium) is a much bigger place and when we played at Fresno it was kind of the same atmosphere, But I do think that contributed a lot to it.”
UH continues to struggle with starting games flat, this week allowing the Lobos offense to get a couple of touchdowns and field goals early in the game — the lack of fans being the possible reason for their slow starts.
“I was really on our coaches in the pre game about, hey we’ve got to get the energy level up, I thought we were flat in pregame and stuff.” Coach Graham said. “I’m not going to lie to you, you can ask the players, but I will tell you for me it’s very unusual, it’s kind of strange a little bit.”
In the player’s case, they didn’t let the emptiness affect their performance, says wide receiver Nick Mardner, who had a big 42-yard touchdown that got the artificial crowd rocking.
“They had some crowd music, just like how it was in Fresno, but I mean it doesn’t really change, it’s still football,” Mardner said. “we’re still here at home so it still feels the same, still feels great.”
Coach Graham is no stranger to how loud it can get in the “Metal Mecca”, having traveled to Aloha Stadium in 2004 to face legendary coach June Jones and the 'Bows as the defensive coordinator at Tulsa and again in 2010 as Tulsa’s head coach, facing UH in the Hawaii Bowl.
Aloha Stadium is one of the largest venues in the Mountain west, seating 50,000 fans, the third largest seating capacity only behind UNLV’s new Allegiant Stadium and San Diego State, who used to play at the old Qualcomm Stadium, but are in the process of building a new stadium that drastically drops the seating capacity to about 30,000.
The emptiness was definitely felt on Saturday and coach Graham hopes to experience the full force of the Rainbow Warrior faithful in the near future.
“I’ll be glad when we can get past all of this COVID deal and get our fans back because I think that’s a big deal and one of the things I’ve taken pride in my career is defending our home field.” Coach Graham said. “I feel really good about it, so we miss our fans and hopefully we have them back in the near future.”
Graham and company are now 1-0 at home and will have another chance to defend their home turf on November 21st against Boise State — a rematch of the 2019 Mountain West Championship.
In the meantime, the 'Bows return to the road to take on San Diego State in their temporary home at the StubHub Center in Carson, California — kick off set for 11:00 a.m. Hawaii time on November 14th.