HONOLULU — Ken Niumatalolo’s Hawaii homecoming only got worse after botching the coin flip.
The Navy head coach and University of Hawaii alumnus said a miscommunication kept Navy from receiving the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss for the season opener against the Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium.
That put Hawaii’s offense on the field first, which was never a good thing for a Navy team that gave up more than 500 yards in a 59-41 loss that ended early Sunday morning on the East Coast.
“It’s not very fun to come this far and get your butts whipped,” said Niumatalolo, who attended Radford High School just down the street from a stadium he has yet to win in as Navy's head coach.
“We were kind of shell-shocked to get down 14-0 that quickly,” he added. “I did a bad job communicating. We won the toss. We wanted to take the ball. Somehow that got mixed up. That’s my fault. I’ve got to make sure because like I said they have a really potent offense.”
An expected high-scoring affair between two contrasting offenses came to fruition, but only after the Mids spotted the home team a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald threw for 428 yards and six touchdowns. The 436 total passing yards given up were the third most allowed by a Navy defense under Niumatalolo.
“It was a chess match the entire game and their skill players are capable of doing whatever is necessary and a quarterback at the helm that knows what he’s doing,” Navy senior safety Sean Williams said. “We knew what kind of challenge we were getting into.”
Navy had a chance to watch Hawaii play last week and upset Colorado State on the road as an 18-point underdog. That sneak peek didn’t seem to help the Midshipmen on defense.
Even with seven days to prepare, Navy allowed Hawaii to score touchdowns on five straight drives to start the game. Fourth down was especially brutal for the Midshipmen as the Rainbow Warriors converted all three times when going for it in the first half and twice scored touchdowns as a result.
McDonald connected with Jojo Ward on a 34-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-4 to give Hawaii a 21-0 lead. McDonald then went up top to John Ursua for a 50-yard scoring strike on fourth-and-1 as the Rainbow Warriors took a commanding a 35-7 advantage with 4:17 left before the break.
The Midshipmen also gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown and turned the ball over going for it on fourth-and-2 to open the second quarter when quarterback Malcolm Perry was blown up for a 5-yard loss.
“We couldn’t stop them,” Niumatalolo said. “That was a bad play to make but I go by feel and I felt like we could not stop those dudes. We had to try to do something.”
Navy accounted for 115 of its 177 yards in the first half on two plays. Fullback Nelson Smith’s 40-yard run set up a 3-yard score by Zach Abey, who took over at quarterback in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Perry then broke off a 75-yard touchdown run as the Mids trailed 38-14 at intermission.
Navy chipped away at the lead in the second half with Perry getting the offense rolling.
Abey scored the second of his four rushing touchdowns to cap a 12-play drive to start the second half, but the Mids still needed a big play or two on defense.
They got it two plays into ensuing drive when outside linebacker Nizaire Cromartie strip-sacked McDonald and defensive end Josh Webb fell on the loose ball at the Hawaii 9. Abey’s 7-yard touchdown cut the deficit to 38-28.
“First game of the season guys are trying to figure things out,” said Perry, who finished with 108 yards rushing. “I’d say about three drives in we started picking things up and we got rolling from there.”
Navy’s offense had a chance to make it a one-possession game in the second half. Facing a critical third down late in the third quarter, Perry dropped back to pass then suddenly stopped as if he heard a whistle. Confusion ensued and Perry was bearhugged by Hawaii’s Zeno Choi and Penei Pavihi, who were given credit for a sack to force a punt.
“I heard a whistle and I stopped, looked around, guys were stopping so I’m waiting for the ref to step in and say something about that but I guess it never happened,” Perry said. “That was that: Just an unfortunate play.”
Added Niumatalolo: “That third down was huge. I’ve been coaching 29 years and had never seen that before. Our whole team stopped. Our guys said they heard a whistle.”
McDonald put the game away with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including a 75-yarder to Ward to stretch the lead back to 17.
The 59 points were the most given up by Navy since the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State.
Hawaii is now 3-1 all-time against Navy. All three of its wins in the series have come in Honolulu.
Navy: Hawaii's 436 passing yards were the third most allowed by a Navy defense in the Ken Niumatalolo era and the most since Louisiana Tech recorded 409 on Dec. 23, 2016 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Hawaii: A return to the run and shoot offense has proven to be a fruitful one. After averaging 402.7 yards and 22.8 points per game a season ago, the Rainbow Warriors are averaging 51 points and 569.5 yards through their first two games this year. They previously ran the run and shoot for 13 seasons and consistently ranked among the nation's leaders in passing offense and scoring.
Navy: The Midshipmen open American Athletic Conference play Saturday when they host Memphis. They have not started a season with consecutive losses since 2012.