Vasko, Coastal Carolina defeat San Jose State in 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 23, 2023

HONOLULU — The Sun Belt has never lost in the Hawaii Bowl. 

1-0, baby. 

Behind the right arm and two legs of redshirt freshman Ethan Vasko, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers downed San Jose State University Spartans in Chevan Cordeiro’s final game in Hawai’i, 24-14, to win the 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl presented by the Hawaiian Islands in the lowest combined scoring finish in the bowl game’s history. 

Vasko was thrusted into the starting role a few weeks ago after Coastal’s usual QB1 Greyson McCall went down with a concussion and eventually announced his transfer to NC State for next season. McCall was still in attendance for the Hawaii Bowl and dressed in street clothes on the sideline with his Chanticleer teammates. 

San Jose State won the opening coin toss and deferred possession to the second half, kicking off to the Chanticleers to get play started — CCU’s Ja’Vin Simpkins darting out to the 33-yard line to provide quality starting field position. The Chants picked up a pair of firsts before SJSU’s defense stopped CCU on fourth-and-one inside Spartans’ territory, forcing a turnover on downs. 

The Spartans’ first possession wasn’t much better, only moving the chains once before being forced to punt it back the Coastal. 

Coastal Carolina’s second drive proved far better than the first, going 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown as Vasko connected with TE Matt Alaimo for the two-yard score and the game’s first points. The ensuing PAT sailed through the uprights as the Chanticleers took a 7-0 lead with 3:16 left in the first quarter. 

CCU coupled a quick defensive stop with the score, stopping Cordeiro and the Spartans on third-and-one at the SJSU 42 to get the ball back with 1:09 remaining in the opening frame. The Chants quickly jumped into Spartans’ territory as the quarter ended but were stopped early in the second quarter after moving inside the San Jose State 40-yard line. 

Following a punt that pinned the team at its own 3-yard line, SJSU would move into Chants’ territory for the first time all evening as Cordeiro showed off the arm and legs, but CCU’s defense held strong on fourth-and-five at its own 43 and forced a turnover on downs of their own with 5:20 remaining in the half. 

Coastal would move the ball down the field to the SJSU 30 before a pair of penalties killed the drive, setting up a fourth down and 30 yards to go at the Chants’ 45. CCU punter Evan Crenshaw continued an impressive punting performance, pinning the Spartans at their own 3 with under a minute left in the half and forcing SJSU to run out the rest of the first half clock and head into the locker room with CCU leading, 7-0. 

The first 30 minutes marked a historic performance for the two defenses, combining for the lowest scoring half of the 20 Hawaii Bowl games that have been played. 

When play resumed, the teams traded three-and-outs to open the third quarter before Cordeiro and the Spartans’ offense found some footing, picking up a pair of big gains to push back into Chanticleers’ territory. The Saint Louis (HI) alum and former University of Hawai’i quarterback showed off the wheels to continue the drive, scrambling for a 28-yard pickup on third-and-11 to give the Spartans their first “Goal-to-Go” chance of the night. 

The opportunity was short-lived, though. SJSU RB and 1,000-yard rusher Kairee Robinson saw the ball get popped out on first-and-goal, fumbling for just the third time all season for a Spartans’ turnover inside the red zone. 

Coastal Carolina capitalized, going 87 yards across 11 plays (plus an unnecessary roughness penalty on SJSU) to double the lead, 14-0, as Vasko connected with his other tight end Kendall Karr at the front-right pylon with 3:19 left in the third quarter. 

It looked to go from bad to worse for San Jose State 32 seconds later when Robinson lost his fourth fumble of the season, once again on the Chants’ side of the field. This time, the SJSU defense would be able to limit the damage as CCU kicker Kade Hensley knocked home a 49-yard field goal try just 47 seconds into the fourth quarter that made it a 17-0 lead for Coastal Carolina. The make from 49 yards was tied for the second-longest make in Hawaii Bowl history behind San Diego State’s Jack Browning’s 52-yarder in 2022 and with Middle Tennessee’s Zeke Rankin’s 49-yarder in the same game. 

Suddenly, Cordeiro and the Spartans’ offense flipped the switch. 

SJSU marched down the field in less than two minutes for a touchdown as Cordeiro escaped trouble and somehow connected with tight end Sam Olsen for a 35-yard score on fourth-and-nine to provide San Jose State a lifeline, 17-7. 

The defense for SJSU followed suit, forcing a punt just 84 seconds after the team’s score to get the ball back to their 1st Team All-Mountain West quarterback. Cordeiro piloted another quick scoring drive for San Jose State as the Spartans continued to balance the running and passing attacks to go 61 yards in two minutes and 22 seconds for another touchdown, this time on a 12-yard rush from Quali Conley, making it a 17-14 game with 8:30 left in regulation. 

Despite the mounting pressure, Coastal’s redshirt freshman remained calm and the Chanticleers reverted to their earlier form to engineer a 10-play, 75-yard drive to all but end the Spartans’ hopes of a fairytale ending for Cordeiro. After running nearly six minutes of clock, Vasko found senior wideout Sam Pinckney in the back-right corner of the endzone for a #SCTop10-level one-handed catch for the score and putting the game out of reach, 24-14. 

SJSU had one last-ditch effort, setting up a 32-yard field goal with just over a minute left and looking to cut it back to a one-possession game with two timeouts remaining but the kick sailed wide-right, allowing Coastal to kneel out the remainder of the clock to win the 2023 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl, 24-14. 

Cordeiro finished his final college game 16-for-30 passing the ball for 215 yards and a touchdown with dozens of friends and family members in attendance for his final return to Hawai’i on the gridiron. He also rushed for 59 yards across seven carries as San Jose State saw its six-game winning streak come to an end. 

It wasn’t all bad for the Spartans, who had as much of a rollercoaster ride season as anyone in the FBS on their way to clinching a share of the Mountain West regular season title and turning in back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991-92. While Brent Brennan fell to 0-3 in bowl games in his time with SJSU, he is the only San Jose State football head coach to make three separate bowl appearances with the program. 

Coastal Carolina’s Ethan Vasko was named the Hugh Yoshida Most Valuable Player recipient for his career-high three TD passes, contributing 249 total yards from scrimmage (199 pass, 50 rush) in the Chanticleers’ second-ever bowl win. CCU is now 2-2 all-time in bowl games and finishes their fourth consecutive season of eight or more wins. 

Chants’ wide receiver Sam Pinckney eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season during the game, becoming just the third player in program history to reach the milestone as he finished the night with eight catches for 123 yards and his spectacular TD grab to seal the win. 

CCU head coach Tim Beck also became just the second Chants’ HC to win a postseason game in his first season despite facing a multitude of challenges in his inaugural year at the helm. The Chants started three different quarterbacks this season and won five of their final seven games despite the QB carousel spinning. 

Mountain West squads are now 4-6 all-time in the Hawaii Bowl, whereas this was the Sun Belt’s first appearance in the event. Saturday’s matchup also marked the first meeting in football between Coastal Carolina and San Jose State University.