BYU can’t hold on, falls 38-34 to Hawaii in final minutes of a wild Hawaii Bowl

Hawaii running back Miles Reed (26) is tackled from behind by BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar, right, during the second half of the Hawaii Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Honolulu • BYU had moments of brilliance and others that were head-scratching and bewildering throughout the season. So it was only fitting that the Cougars would turn in a roller-coaster performance against the Rainbow Warriors at the Hawaii Bowl.

But while the game started a bit shaky for the Cougars, BYU tightened up the bolts and buckled down to come from behind and take the lead in the fourth quarter.

However, the Cougars couldn’t hold on. Hawaii rallied in the final two minutes of the game to beat BYU 38-34 at Aloha Stadium.

Although both programs have met 31 times prior, this was the first time BYU and Hawaii — former WAC and Mountain West rivals — met in the postseason. It also marks the first time the Rainbow Warriors defeated the Cougars since 2001, when Hawaii’s coach Nick Rolovich led the team as quarterback to spoil the Cougars’ perfect season.

“That was a great football game,” Rolovich said. “To get to end the season, winning a bowl game against BYU in that fashion – it's hard to write anything better.”

Hawaii notched its 10th win of the season and finished 10-5. BYU ended its season 7-6.

After trailing 31-24 at halftime, the Cougars dominated most of the second half — except when it counted.

BYU tied the game at 31-all on quarterback Zach Wilson’s 2-yard run. BYU then took a 34-31 lead at the start of the fourth quarter on Jake Oldroyd’s 20 yard field goal.

BYU’s defense pitched a shutout throughout the second half, but lapsed badly down the stretch, when the Rainbow Warriors staged an epic rally on the arm of quarterback Cole McDonald.

His 24-yard pass to Nick Mardner with 1:17 gave Hawaii a 38-34 lead.

BYU wasn’t quite finished. Wilson completed three passes — two to Micah Simon — and ran for another big gain to get down to the Hawaii 39. But the Cougar quarterback was intercepted by Khoury Bethley on the next play to end the comeback and seal the win for Hawaii.

“They capitalized and made some plays and executed better than we did,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.

Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald and the Rainbow Warriors’ run and shoot attack gave the Cougars fits. McDonald was 28 of 46 for 493 yards and four touchdowns.

Wilson had his moments, but wound up 24 of 40 for 274 yards. He ran for a pair of touchdowns, but was picked off twice.

BYU was most impressive on the ground, totaling 231 rushing yards, led by Tyler Allgeier’s 77-yard output. Wilson added 72.

While the Rainbow Warriors failed to get a first down on the opening drive, they made sure to put their foot on the pedal after that. After an 82-yard, 10-play scoring drive, UH's Khoury Bethley got his first career interception, which he returned for 21 yards.

The turnover was converted into a score two plays later on a 40-yard reception by Jared Smart for a 14-0 lead with less than five minutes left in the first quarter.

The Cougars kept their cool and kept chipping away plays, helped along by a 31-yard reception by Matt Bushman to get on the UH 3-yard line. Lopini Katoa eventually scored on a 1-yard rush to cut the deficit in half.

However, UH was quick to respond — this time scoring on a quarterback sneak. Some BYU players motioned that the ball was turned over in the end zone, which would have canceled the touchdown, but officials ruled the ball was in the player’s possession (and over the goal line) prior to being fumbled.

Zach Wilson returned McDonald's rushing score with his own one-yard rushing touchdown of his own on the Cougars' ensuing drive.

Then BYU's defense seemed to make a statement. JJ Nwigwe sacked McDonald for a loss of 10 yards and Zac Dawe seemed to get a strip sack and fumble recovery. However, after review, the play resulted in a sack, but possession stayed with the Rainbow Warriors for a 4th-and-26.

UH nailed a 46-yard field goal attempt – the fourth-longest in Hawaii Bowl history.

BYU pulled into their bag of tricks for their next drive, but only proved to be successful in one.

The Cougars got the ball to wide receiver Micah Simon, who then threw to Talon Shumway, but the pass was incomplete. But then BYU scored on a reverse play to Simon for a 11-yard rushing touchdown to but UH's lead to 24-21.

Once again, the BYU defense kept trying to not only stop the Rainbow Warriors' offense, but get a turnover. It seemed Troy Warner did – catching the ball after it cruised past a Hawaii receiver's hands, but a review on the play resulted in it being changed to an incomplete pass instead.

UH went on to score once more, while BYU's Jake Oldroyd nailed a 37-yard field goal to make the score 31-24 at halftime.

The Cougar defense only continued to improve going into the second half. While BYU prevented the Rainbow Warriors from even getting a first down on UH's first two drives of the second half, BYU tied the game after Aleva Hifo returned a punt for 52 yards to put the Cougars' on the Hawaii 6-yard line.

BYU would have pulled away on a rushing touchdown by Wilson, but when the quarterback jumped over a Hawaii defender, a second player tackled Wilson mid-air, resulting in a fumble instead of a touchdown.

However, UH was unable to capitalize and the Cougars went on to score on a 20-yard field goal on their ensuing drive to get their first lead of the game, 34-31.

The Rainbow Warriors were finally able to get their first first down of the second half on a 36-yard reception by Jojo Ward, but the Cougar defense forced them to attempt a 40-yard field goal. And Ryan Meskell missed, keeping the BYU lead intact.

“It was an honor to share the field with them,” Sitake said. “Things didn’t go well with us … we had ourselves in a hole. Very proud of our players for the way they were able to fight back and had a chance to win.”