Hawai’i drops home-opener, 37-24, as Stanford capitalizes on critical ‘Bows blunders 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED SEP 3, 2023

HONOLULU – The first game in the revamped Clarence T.C. Ching Complex for the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors football team saw a sea of 12,547 fans asked to don white for the home-opener, led by the newly-old-new named student section called the “Bowzos”, bring the energy from way before the game deep into the night.

The ‘Bows (0-2) fell on Friday night to the visiting Stanford Cardinal (1-0), 37-24, as Hawai’i’s mistakes during inopportune times proved costly. Hawai’i was penalized 11 times for 114 yards throughout the night. While Stanford did not play clean football either (nine penalties for 81 yards against the Cardinal), Hawai’i gift-wrapped six first downs via penalty to Troy Taylor’s team throughout the evening, extending drives that looked like the ‘Bows defense had gotten off the field for. 

Both offenses started the night slowly, as the first three possessions of the game ended in nearly identical fashion – 3-&-outs – before Stanford engineered a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive capped off by an E.J. Smith one-yard touchdown run to open a 7-0 lead. 

Hawai’i’s offense finally started to power up on their fourth possession of the game, as junior QB Brayden Schager connected with six different receivers along an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that oozed into the start of the second quarter. Reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Week WR Pofele Ashlock continued his hot start to the season, closing the drive with a 7-yard TD hookup from Schager to tie it, 7-7, with 14:11 left in the first half.

Stanford quickly struck back on the shoulders of All-Pac-12 2nd-team TE Benjamin Yurosek, who caught three balls for 74 yards and a touchdown during the 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive that pushed the Cardinal back ahead, 14-7. Yurosek, a senior, continued to dominate all game as the ‘Bows saw a pair of key starters on defense get ejected for targeting throughout the night. 

One of those targeting ejections came in the red zone on the next offensive possession for Stanford, as ‘Bows safety Meki Pei was flagged late after a hit on Cardinal sophomore QB Ashton Daniels. Set up on the Hawai’i 5-yard line, the ‘Bows defense held strong for two plays before Bryce Farrell rushed it in from two yards out to put Stanford ahead by two touchdowns with 4:25 left in the second quarter. 

Hawai’i was able to chip on a field goal as time expired in the opening half, thanks to the heads-up play and quick reaction time of junior WR Karsyn Pupunu, who came up with a tipped ‘Schager Bomb’ at the Stanford 15-yard line with under 15 seconds to play in the half. The ‘Bows took a shot at the end zone, looking for a 6-foot-5 Alex Perry that ran out of room on the sideline due to quality coverage.  

Hawai’i kicker Matthew Shipley split the uprights as the clock hit zeroes to make it 21-10 as the teams went to the locker rooms. With the make, Shipley moved into a tie for fourth all-time in ‘Bows program history with his 43rd made field goal and sits two makes behind third-most. 

Stanford opened the second half with the ball and used senior RB Casey Filkins’ 47-yard scamper to quickly threaten in the red zone, already up two scores. Hawai’i’s defense hunkered down from there, shutting down three straight runs by the Cardinal to force a field goal and keep it within two touchdowns, 24-10. 

Hawai’i looked as though they would answer back, driving all the way down to the Stanford 10-yard line before the offense stalled. Head coach Timmy Chang continued to be aggressive on fourth down, but the Stanford defensive line got home to sack Schager and the ‘Bows would turn it over on downs without any points to show for a drive that took three minutes off the clock. 

Again, it was Yurosek, as the tight end jumpstarted the Cardinal offensive possession with two straight catches totaling 25 yards to push to the Stanford 42-yard line. After Stanford drove inside the Hawai’i 30, the ‘Bows defense forced an incompletion on third down that looked to get them off the field before a flag that Chang called “hard luck” was thrown on linebacker Isaiah Tufaga for targeting. 

Not only did the penalty end Tufaga’s night, but it also extended the Stanford drive long enough to add on three more points and make it a three-possession game with under 17 minutes left for the ‘Bows to mount a comeback. 

That urgency manifested itself with four straight gains to end the third quarter for the Rainbow Warriors, as Steven McBride finally got his first catch of the night for seven yards before Tylan Hines broke off a positive run for a first down. Then it was Ashlock again for 28 yards before Schager hit Alex Perry for an 11-yard completion to end the period and give the ‘Bows a fresh set of downs to start the fourth at the Stanford 24-yard line. 

Like the second quarter, Hawai’i would strike quickly into the new period as Schager connected with McBride on a fantastic catch by the senior wideout for a 24-yard touchdown. The ‘Bows went for two but failed, still trailing 27-16 with 14:52 left to play. 

The Hawai’i defense once again looked like they had forced a fourth-down decision for Troy Taylor after three plays, but a roughing the passer penalty on third-and-15 that was tacked onto a 12-yard completion gave new life to the drive. Stanford would go down and kick their third field goal of the half to extend the lead to 30-16 with 9:09 remaining. 

Feeling the pressure, the ‘Bows began to work quickly once again. Working short, Hawai’i picked up a pair of first downs to push just before midfield. Two drops and two heavy pressures (one on fourth down that turned into a sack) ended the possession and turned the ball over on downs at the Hawai’i 31-yard line.  

Stanford provided the knockout punch three plays later, as Daniels found senior WR John Humphreys in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard score to make it 37-16 with just 5:22 left. 

The ‘Bows would pick themselves up off the mat once again though, piecing together a 15-play, 64-yard scoring drive ending with Ashlock’s second TD catch of the night and third of the season. The connection between the junior QB and redshirt freshman WR continues to show positive momentum heading into next week and beyond. 

Reserve QB Dalen Morris came in for the two-point conversion try and was successful for the second time in as many games in short-yardage goal-line situations, cutting it to 37-24 with 68 seconds remaining. 

The ensuing onside kick would go out of bounds and the Cardinal would kneel twice to run down the clock. Daniels finished the night going 25-for-36 passing the ball for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns while scrambling for 42 yards on the ground. Casey Filkins led the rushing attack for Stanford, going for 67 yards on just six carries. Yurosek finished with nine catches for 138 yards himself, tearing up the middle of the ‘Bows defense. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal defense racked up six sacks on the night, led by sophomore OLB David Bailey, who had three by himself. 

Stanford travels to #6 USC next week, taking on Heisman-hopeful QB Caleb Williams and the Trojans in a matchup of Pac-12 schools leaving the conference. USC will join the Big 10 following this season, whereas Stanford was offered membership to the ACC following this year. 

Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager set multiple career highs for the second consecutive game, throwing for 355 yards and 30 completions across 53 attempts. He also matched a career-best three TD passes as he cleaned up turnovers with no interceptions or fumbles all night.  

Ashlock led the receiving attack for the second straight week, going for 114 yards and two scores on just eight catches as he continued his star-turn to start the year. Junior wideout Koali Nishigaya set new career-highs with six catches for 52 yards as he continues to see increased action in the Run-N-Shoot. The former Saint Louis Crusaders standout is having a good 2023, as the former walk-on worked his way onto scholarship this offseason. 

For the second consecutive week, the ‘Bows struggled to get the rushing attack going after it was the team’s “bread-and-butter” in 2022. The defense also was unable to force a turnover again while the team struggled to get pressure against the Stanford line. 

Hawai’i is back in action at home next Saturday at 6 p.m. HST, hosting Albany (1-1) for the first meeting ever between the two programs. The Great Danes fell to Marshall in Week 1, 21-17, giving up three second-half touchdowns after holding the Thundering Herd scoreless in the opening half.