BYU football team's playing at Aloha Stadium isn’t a big deal anymore

Tough season for Cougars and Warriors takes toll on fans’ interest<br>

BYU running back Squally Canada (22) celebrates a touchdown with teammate offensive lineman JJ Nwigwe (96) as wide receiver Talon Shumway (21) looks on in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Hawaii, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Honolulu • Back in 2011, when BYU returned to Hawaii for the first time since it was blown out 72-45 by the Warriors in 2001, fans flocked to Aloha Stadium to watch the rematch of former Western Athletic Conference rivals.

In the 30th meeting on Saturday afternoon, not so much.

The stadium’s parking lot on Oahu and close to Pearl Harbor was packed with tailgaters two hours before kickoff six years ago. Of course, BYU was 8-3 — not 3-8 — before that contest and the Warriors were 6-6 and needing a win for an outside shot at a bowl.

The Cougars won 41-20 back in 2011 in Jake Heaps’ final game at BYU. The sophomore announced two days later that he was transferring, and he ended up at Kansas.

Riley Nelson had overtaken Heaps as BYU’s starting QB and threw three touchdown passes in the win.

“We planned to make the trip almost a year ago,” said Kevin Johnston, a BYU fan from Norwalk, Calif., tailgating with his family on the west side of the stadium Saturday as rain fell lightly. “It’s been a tough year, but we support the Cougars no matter what. We didn’t even think about not coming.”

A lot of others did, however, and stayed home.

Still, BYU fans came close to outnumbering Hawaii fans, if pregame introductions are an accurate gauge.

Tailgating just outside the main gates, Hawaii fan Al Maewa remembered those 2001 and 2011 game and how much Hawaii fans had looked forward to the Cougars’ return both times. The buzz just hasn’t been there this year, he said.

“Just another game, probably because neither team is any good,” Maewa said.

BYU, which entered the game with a 21-8 record against the Warriors all-time, will host Hawaii on Oct. 13 next year.

There are no games scheduled between the former WAC rivals beyond that, and it will probably stay that way for some time because BYU’s 2019 and 2020 schedules are mostly filled.

Of course, the advantage to playing Hawaii at Hawaii is the NCAA allows teams that do so to play 13 regular-season games. That’s why the Cougars were able to add a 13th game — presumably the season-opener against Portland State — to their 2017 schedule last year.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake said Monday he would love to play the Warriors every year for tradition’s sake. And he has enjoyed having 13 games this season.

“A lot of the Polynesians on the team have connections there, and have family there,” Sitake said. “It is kind of like the gateway to the United States [mainland], going through Hawaii, so there are a lot of people that have roots there. But more than anything we have a lot of family and there is a lot of fan support there, too. The [LDS] church is strong in the state of Hawaii and I anticipate there will be a lot of fans at the game, just like we’ve seen on the road and at home, so we are excited to play for them.”