A Brawl in the Palms: the Cougars in the Hawai’i Bowl
Sunday’s game in Honolulu might be the first meeting between the Cougars and the Fresno State Bulldogs, but this marks the program’s third bowl game in Hawaii.
The Cougars first played in the Aloha Bowl in 1988 against the Washington State Cougars and then in the Hawaii Bowl in 2003 against the Hawaii Warriors. Both games resulted in a loss for the Cougars, something superstitious fans should take note of. The latter ended in punches between the two football teams.
The Aloha Bowl was the third bowl game to be created in Hawaii, after the Poi and Pineapple Bowls. The game was played from 1982 to 2000, only closing once the bowl committee lost its sponsorship with the Jeep Corporation.
The 1988 matchup saw the Jack Pardee-coached Cougars arrive in Honolulu with a 9-2 record and ranked No. 14 in the country. Washington State was ranked No. 18 at the time and had won four straight games.
Washington State put the Cougars in a hole early, scoring 24 points in the second quarter, owning a 24-9 lead at halftime. The Cougars scored thirteen straight points in the second half and were only down two points with 13 minutes left in the game.
Washington State, however, forced a turnover on the last play to secure their first bowl victory since 1916.
The Hawaii Bowl was founded 14 years later to replace the Aloha Bowl. The 2003 game, only the second in the bowl’s short history, featured the Cougars under Art Briles against the Hawaii Warriors.
The Hawaii Bowl was created with a rule called the Hawaii Guarantee, which ensures that if the Hawaii Warriors are bowl eligible with six or more wins and have not been invited to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, the top tier contests, then they earn an automatic bit to the Hawaii Bowl.
This was the case in 2003 as the 7-5 Cougars faced the 8-5 Warriors. With Kevin Kolb at quarterback, the Cougars had a 20-10 lead two minutes before halftime. But the Warriors scored 17 unanswered points to take a 27-20 lead in the third quarter.
After trading scores, the Cougars came back in the fourth, tying the game at 34 points a piece with only 33 seconds left in the game.
Three successive overtimes followed and in the third time the Cougars were unable to convert on fourth down, ending the game 54-48 in favor of the Warriors. Punches and helmets were thrown afterward in a violent fight, and the Cougars left Hawaii with an 0-2 all-time record in bowl games.
Almost 14 years to the day later, the Cougars will once again travel west to the Pacific. They will again face a team with a superior record and again face a team from the west coast.
Still, the 2017 football class has a chance to be a part of another piece of Cougar football history: the program’s first win in the Hawaiian Islands.