Hawaii completed one of the more improbable turnarounds in NCAA football history with a 23-17 victory over Oregon State tonight in the Oahu Bowl.
Senior quarterback Dan Robinson threw two touchdown passes to slotback Channon Harris and the defense limited the Beavers to 10 points over the final three quarters after Oregon State had taken a 7-0 lead.
Under the direction of first-year coach June Jones, Hawaii finished 9-4 after going 0-12 last year and extending the nation's longest losing streak to 19 games with a season-opening loss to Southern California this fall.
But instead of panicking after the 62-7 shellacking by the Trojans, Jones told the players it was just one game. They responded by winning seven of their next nine to gain a share of the Western Athletic Conference title with Texas Christian and Fresno State.
It was the third postseason appearance in 10 years for the Rainbows and their second bowl victory. The previous one came in 1992, when they culminated an 11-2 season with a 27-17 victory over Illinois in the Holiday Bowl.
Much like that team, this year's Rainbows were picked to finish last in the WAC by nearly every major preseason poll. Even after offensive lineman Adrian Klemm boldly predicted last summer that Hawaii would compete for the league title, few believed it.
"But we stuck together and good things happened," Jones said. "It's a tribute to these kids that we were able to make it to a bowl game. They never stopped believing in themselves."
That was reflected in the first half of tonight's game, which was as wild as it was physical. Oregon State (7-5) scored a touchdown on its opening drive as tailback Ken Simonton raced 30 yards for a big gain, then got into the end zone on a one-yard run with 8 minutes 8 seconds left in the first quarter.
Hawaii scored 10 unanswered points on a 26-yard field goal by Eric Hannum and Robinson's nine-yard strike to Harris. Oregon State tied it just before the half when Ryan Cesca connected on a 37-yard field goal. On the night, Cesca also had a field goal attempt blocked and two others miss wide left.
The Rainbows took the lead in the second half on a 30-yard scoring pass between Robinson and Harris, who was open on the play and broke strong safety Terrance Carroll's tackle at the 15 to make it 17-10 with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Hannum extended that lead to 20-10 with a 22-yard field goal with 2:10 left in the period.
In the fourth quarter, Hawaii disproved the adage that you can't run in the run-and-shoot offense. Running back Avion Weaver finished with 85 yards on 18 carries. The Oahu Bowl MVP had seven rushes on a drive that set up Hannum's third field goal, this one from 35 yards, to give the Rainbows a 23-10 advantage with 2:58 remaining.
OSU made it interesting after Simonton, who finished with 157 yards on 18 carries, scored his second touchdown with 1:27 left.
The Beavers then appeared to recover an onside kick, but an offside penalty negated the play. On the ensuing kick, the ball bounced out of bounds, and Hawaii took possession and ran out the clock.