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The Night The ’Bows Finally Beat BYU

UH quarterback Garrett Gabriel is congratulated by BYU's Ty Detmer after the big win. Note the packed stadium HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

UH quarterback Garrett Gabriel is congratulated by BYU’s Ty Detmer after the big win. Note the packed stadium HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

It seems hard to believe, as I sit and watch the great upsets and fantastic finishes of this year’s college football season, that it’s been 25 years since one of the most magical nights in University of Hawaii football lore. It was Oct. 28, 1989, when the ‘Bows bashed BYU, 56-14.

“This is better than Statehood!” hollered longtime UH broadcaster Jim Leahey on the K-5 telecast. Coach Bob Wagner called it “the most perfect game, execution-wise, that I’ve ever been involved with.” You can still view the highlights on YouTube.

For long-suffering UH football fans who had watched their beloved team get better each year but always manage to fall short against powerful BYU, it was redemption in every way.

“I remember being a sportscaster in Hawaii in the 1980s and I saw all the misfortunes,” says Russell Shimooka, former sports director at KITV. “Whether it was the left-footed punt by Jim McMahon in ’81, the dropped pass by Walter Murray in ’87 or the one- and two-point losses in between, my heart bled with the Rainbows.”

But that October night in ’89, just three days before Halloween, was different. You could feel it the air, as many fans in a jam-packed Aloha Stadium came in costume. It turned out that mighty BYU, the national champion just a few years before, was the team that would be spooked.

I remember being on the field behind the Hawaii bench and hearing the cacophony of sounds, and the passion, emotion and confetti rain down onto the turf. It was deafening — so loud that then-future sportscaster Robert Kekaula remembers “the place shook so much, I thought it was going to fall down.”

“We had the place filled to capacity,” recalls Garrett Gabriel, the ‘Bows quarterback. “I was just fortunate to have one of my best games against them. I was very proud to be a part of that team.”

How perfect was it for Hawaii fans?

In the first quarter, Gabriel directed a methodical drive that ended with Jamal Farmer scoring the first touchdown of the night. Later in the quarter, Gabriel found Chris Roscoe wide open in the end zone and it was 14-0 ‘Bows.

But perhaps the most perfect play came early in the second quarter, with Hawaii backed up to its own 17-yard line. Gabriel tossed a screen pass to Farmer and it seemed as if the entire offensive line got out in front of him. The big running back was literally escorted down the sidelines by Leo Goeas and company, 83 yards untouched for a touchdown, and a 21-0 Hawaii lead. I remember looking around the stadium and seeing people almost delirious with joy.

Defensively, the pressure also was on. Linebacker Mark Odom spent about as much time in the Cougars backfield as their heralded quarterback Ty Detmer. I recall Odom triumphantly pumping his fists into the air after recording one of his four sacks on the night. The ‘Bows had 10 sacks overall, including one by 28-year-old former corrections officer and senior defensive lineman Dana Directo.

By halftime, it was 35-7 Hawaii, and local fans were pinching themselves to think that this was real. The rout continued in the second half, with Gabriel passing for 440 yards and four touchdowns — besides Roscoe and Farmer, Jeff Newman and Darrick

Branch also caught TD passes. Richard Stevenson and a young Jeff Sydner also joined the scoring parade, and the ‘Bows built up a 56-7 advantage before BYU scored late. I remember Coach Wagner telling me that he had people very close to him wanting him to run up the score, and truthfully, Hawaii could have named the final score. But this result, 56-14, was enough — after years of frustration, it was more than enough.

“It meant so much for the state of Hawaii,” Gabriel says. “It’s a night that people remember and treasure as a part of our UH football history.”