In fact, the Bulldogs have won only once there, and that was back in 1994. The 1994 team led by sophomore quarterback Richie Donati was one of the worst to ever play in Aloha Stadium.
How did Donati pull out a win when such great Bulldog quarterbacks Kevin Sweeney, Trent Dilfer, Billy Volek, David Carr, and Paul Pinegar have all failed?
In 1984 sophomore sensation Kevin Sweeney led Fresno State into Aloha Stadium. The Bulldogs had won at Arizona to open the season, 27-22, and were 5-0 heading into the game against the Rainbow Warriors. It was the first Bulldog team to play Hawaii at their new home, and the hometown ‘Bows were a dismal 1-3. Hawaii won the game and went on to finish 7-5, while Fresno State won only once more and finished a disappointing 6-6.
Fast forward to 1986, Sweeney’s senior year, and the outcome was not much different. This time Fresno State was 8-1 and on the verge of Freedom Bowl berth, if they could finish out the season 10-1. Sweeney was in striking distance of Doug Flutie’s NCAA career passing record that November day, but he would not break the record nor win the game. The Bulldogs lost, 24-13, despite having one of the most talented teams in Bulldog history.
Fresno State would not make another trip to Hawaii until 1992, as a first year member of the Western Athletic Conference. Trent Dilfer and the Bulldogs were 3-3 and 1-1 in conference. The 47-45 loss dropped Fresno State below .500 for the first time since the 1987 season. The Bulldogs went on to win their last six games including a share of the WAC title, but the two point loss cost them an outright conference title.
Following the 31-16 win in 1994, Fresno State made a second straight trip across the Pacific in 1995. Donati lost his starting job to hot shot junior college transfer Jim Arellanes that year, but Arellanes could not duplicate Donati’s success, losing a close 42-37 shootout. The loss kept the Bulldogs below .500 for the second straight year.
Former head coach Jim Sweeney had a horrible 1-4 record in his five appearances at Aloha Stadium. Pat Hill has not faired much better.
Hill has never won at Hawaii. He is 0-4 as head coach and in three of his four trips there; he has walked into Aloha Stadium with the better team, but came away a loser. The last trip to the Island is forgettable. Paul Pinegar was making his first start of 2003 after suffering a pectoral muscle in preseason practice. The Warriors pummeled Pinegar and the Bulldogs, 55-28.
Getting blown out was not the case in 1997, 1999, and 2001. There was much on the line in those years, and all three were tough losses for the more talented Bulldogs.
The 28-16 loss in 1997 to eventual 3-9 Hawaii was sandwiched in between huge wins over conference favorite Utah and undefeated 17th ranked Air Force. What happened at Aloha Stadium that Saturday? Was it island voodoo? Whatever it was, it kept Hill from a having a winning season in his first year as head coach.
In 1999, with an outright WAC title on the line, but Jeff Hanna missed a 57 yard field goal at the end of regulation. The game went into overtime, and both teams made a field goal in the first overtime. But Fresno State failed to score in the second overtime and Hawaii pulled out a 31-24 win.
The most heartbreaking game was the 38-34 loss in 2001. Nick Rolovich went nuts and outshined Heisman hopeful David Carr despite a career high 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. All-American Ashley Lelie caught the game winner with 13 seconds left in the game. Hawaii’s improbable fourth quarter comeback was aided by two Fresno State fumbles; they were only the second and third lost fumbles of the season for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are not only playing against Hawaii this Saturday, but are playing against history, as well. Since the 2001 game the rivalry has grown into a brutal hate fest. It just might be the most underrated rivalry in the entire country. What other rivalry has tales of island voodoo, trashed planes, and thrown screwdrivers?
About the Author:
Mario Gomez is a native Fresnan, a 1999 graduate of Fresno State and writes daily blogs on Fresno State Football(fsbulldogsfootball.blogspot.com) and college football blog(mdgcollegefootball.blogspot.com).