UH Warrior Football: Best in the West

UH players celebrate and thank fans for coming out to the game against San Diego State on Nov. 23 at Aloha Stadium –Leighland Tagawa

The  University of Hawai‘i football team started Mountain West Conference play with an away 54-3 victory over the Nevada Wolfpack. The Warriors away record is not the greatest, but the victory over Nevada was one of the biggest margins of victory in UH history.

Hawai‘i scored six offensive touchdowns, a blocked punt returned for another, a safety and a field goal. Leading the way for the Warriors was wide receiver Cedric Byrd II with three touchdown catches. Wide receiver Jason-Matthew Sharsh, a Moanalua High School graduate, led the team in receiving yards (123 yards) and scored a touchdown. In the final minutes of the game, backup quarterback Justin Uahinui, a Farrington graduate, threw his first collegiate touchdown pass to Robert Funkhouser.

On Oct. 12, the Warriors traveled to Boise, Idaho, to take on the #14 ranked Boise State Broncos. However, the Broncos easily defeated UH with a final score of 59-37.

Boise State was more dominant than the final score indicated with UH scoring three late touchdowns in the second half to make the score more respectable. Quarterback Cole McDonald completed 23 of his 41 pass attempts for three touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown himself.

The following week, UH took on Air Force Academy at Aloha Stadium. However, this game was also another underwhelming performance with UH losing 56-26. Air Force’s triple option offense, where there is usually a running quarterback and two running backs, ran rampant against the Warrior defense with a total of 353 rushing yards.

Air Force also surprised the Bows by throwing for 169 yards in the air. UH passed for 404 yards, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the Falcons.

One bright spot from the game was wide receiver Melquise Stovall. Stovall had 71 yards on just three catches and two touchdowns. He also had 70 yards on three kickoff returns.

However, just two days after the Air Force game, things turned sour for Stovall when head coach Nick Rolovich announced that Stovall was no longer part of the football program.

Even with the loss of one of the big playmakers, the team rebounded with a 45-31 victory over New Mexico Lobos on Oct. 26. In Albuquerque, the Warriors dominated the Lobos early and entered halftime with a 35-3 lead. New Mexico would dominate the second half outscoring UH 28-7, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Hawai‘i’s early lead.

McDonald was a weapon in the air (237 passing yards) and on the ground (140 rushing yards). Another player making a name for himself was Kamehameha graduate Kumoku Noa. The game against New Mexico was Noa’s first game of the year and his first game since 2017. He made the most of the opportunity, catching four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

The Warriors returned home to host rival Fresno State on Nov. 2. The Bulldogs ended the first quarter up 7-0, but the Warriors exploded for 24 points in the second quarter to enter halftime up 24-14. Fresno adjusted and scored 17 points in the third while the Warriors couldn’t do anything and scored none.

Things started to look bleak when Fresno scored again early in the fourth quarter to go up 38-24. But the Bows rallied when backup quarterback Chevan Cordeiro gave the team a spark off the bench. UH scored two touchdowns in the final minutes of the game to make it 38-38. The game looked destined for overtime, but Fresno State drove down the field and ended the game by making a 37-yard field goal to win it for the Bulldogs.

UH bounced back the following week with a 42-40 home victory over San Jose State University. Cordeiro earned the starting quarterback job over McDonald and led Hawai‘i with 309 yards passing and three touchdown throws. He also ran into two touchdowns with his feet to down the Spartans at Aloha Stadium.

The next game was an away game at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Nov. 11. Cordeiro started again but completed only four of his nine passes (46 yards total) and threw two interceptions. Cordeiro was pulled and McDonald was reinstated as the quarterback after the first quarter.

McDonald led Hawai‘i to a 21-7 victory over the Rebels with two touchdown runs himself. UH defensive back Cortez Davis returned a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown as well. The win over UNLV secured a post-season bowl game for the Warriors.

After winning the last two games in a row, the Warriors (with a 4-3 conference record) found themselves only a game behind first place San Diego State University (5-2 conference record). The Warriors’ next game at home was against the Aztecs on Nov. 23 for the western division championship.

In the winner-take-all game, Hawai‘i started well and struck when McDonald connected with Sharsh on an 8-yard passing TD in the first quarter. The Aztecs scored a field goal in the second, but UH led 7-3 at halftime.

With UH struggling on offense in the second and third quarters, Coach Rolovich replaced McDonald with Cordeiro again to try and spark the offense.

His gamble worked as Cordeiro was able to move the ball down the field more effectively. Cordeiro’s playmaking would set up an 11-yard touchdown run for Fred Holly II to give UH a 14-3 lead after three quarters of play. But SDSU responded with an early score in the fourth quarter. Aztec quarterback Ryan Agnew ran in for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-11.

After a couple punts exchanged between the teams, SDSU had a chance to tie the game up with 1:23 left. The Aztecs drove down the field until the UH defense held them at the Hawai‘i 31-yard line with eight seconds left in the game.

Aztec kicker Matt Araiza had to make the 47-yard field goal attempt to tie it up and send the game to overtime. Araiza kicked and missed the field goal, and Hawai‘i began to celebrate. However, Coach Rolovich called a timeout right before the field goal try so Araiza had a second chance at redemption. Araiza attempted the kick again, but he hit it wide right and Hawai‘i won 14-11, claiming the western division title.

Winning the title over SDSU means that Hawai‘i has secured a spot in the Mountain West Conference Championship game, the first time in school history. The Warriors have a non-conference game at home against Army (Nov. 30) before playing for the conference championship in a rematch against Boise State in Boise on Dec. 7.

by Leighland Tagawa, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter