FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors came to Fort Collins looking to improve upon their fortunes after posting a disappointing 3-9 record a year ago.
They found their pot of gold at Colorado State’s sparkling Canvas Stadium before almost letting it all slip away.
After losing seven straight games in this series dating back to 1995, the visitors from the Aloha State looked right at home in Colorado State’s new digs that opened last fall. The Rainbow Warriors raced out to a 37-7 lead before holding on down the stretch for an exciting 43-34 win.
It took 418 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air from quarterback Cole McDonald to get it done. The sophomore also led the Warriors in rushing with 96 yards and two more scores. McDonald’s performance off-set a school record 537-yard passing effort from Colorado State graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels in his debut as the Rams’ starter.
Hawaii struck early and often taking their opening drive 75 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead on a McDonald-to-John Ursua pass and catch covering the final four yards. After Colorado State answered with a long drive to even the score at 7-all on Olabisi Johnson’s 10-yard scoring reception from Samuels, it was all Hawaii.
The Rainbow Warriors scored the next 30 points as McDonald directed an offense that marched up and down the Canvas Stadium turf with relative ease. Following a chip-shot 21-yard field goal by Ryan Meskell, Hawaii’s next four scoring drives all found pay dirt, and by the time the run ended on Cedric Byrd’s 55-yard scoring jaunt on another McDonald delivery, the Warriors were up 37-7. Only 3:35 remained in the third quarter at that point, and the game appeared to be in the bag.
Not so fast.
Colorado State mounted a frenetic rally on the productive arm of Samuels who spent the past four seasons at Washington – most of it stuck behind Jake Browning on the depth chart. His chance came in the off-season when he graduated and chose Colorado State for his final season at the college level. Samuel’s 537 yards shattered the old Rams’ single-game passing yards record of 449 yards set by Scooter Molander more than three decades ago in 1987.
Following Byrd’s big play for Hawaii, Samuels and the Rams quickly answered with a 3-play, 75-yard drive capped by Preston Williams’ 7-yard reception from Samuels to make it 37-14. The big play, however, was a highlight reel catch where Williams fought off a string of would-be tacklers eventually covering 69 yards before he was finally wrestled down.
After forcing a Hawaii punt, Colorado State struck quickly again on a 2-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 58-yard Samuels-to-Johnson scoring toss. Suddenly, it was 37-20.
Williams would score again on the fourth touchdown pass by Carta-Samuels trimming the lead to 37-27 at the 8:15 mark of the fourth quarter. From there, the Rainbow Warriors would do just enough to hang on for the win sandwiching two Meskell field goals around Carta-Samuels fifth and final touchdown pass – a 9-yard delivery to Izzy Matthews that briefly pulled the Rams within one score at 40-34.
Colorado State will have to quickly shake off the surprising loss in a game where they favored by 14 points at home. Their annual rivalry game with Colorado awaits on Friday.
Hawaii, meanwhile, will try to build on a win that only the Warriors could have believed in. They’ll host Navy next Saturday back in the islands.
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