Comeback Kicks: 5 takeaways from Hawai’i’s 20-17 win over New Mexico State

Comeback Kicks: 5 takeaways from Hawai’i’s 20-17 win over New Mexico State

Comeback Kicks: 5 takeaways from Hawai’i’s 20-17 win over New Mexico State


HONOLULU — The ‘Bows were back with a vigor this past weekend, coming from behind and scoring 17 unanswered 2nd-half points (capped with Matthew Shipley’s 24-yard game-winning FG as time expired) to pick up their second win of the 2023 season. 

It’s tough to overstate the importance of the victory for the Rainbow Warriors, who begin Mountain West Conference play this upcoming Saturday on the road versus a strong UNLV Rebels unit with three wins in four outings so far this season. Hawai’i struggled to win close games during the ’22 season but have started to buck that trend to turn the close losses into wins this year. 

Before diving deep into the Rainbow Warriors’ upcoming visit to the “Ninth Island” for a clash against the Rebels, let’s take a look back at the exciting 20-17 win over New Mexico State one last time. Just like the ‘Bows this past weekend, I’m back with vigor as well.


To make up for the lack of takeaways after the Oregon loss (my apologies, I was traveling for a family situation), here are FIVE (5) takeaways from Hawai’i’s comeback victory to close non-conference play.

1. The Hawai’i special teams unit is piecing it together at the perfect time. 

It was not the prettiest start to the season for UH associate head coach Thomas Sheffield’s football baby – the Rainbow Warriors’ special teams – when giving up a kick-return touchdown against Vanderbilt in Week 0. 

Having a 0-yard punt in two straight weeks drove some fans wild as a young unit tried to find the discipline on kick coverages and protections. Not-so-pleasant conditions made sure to compound issues for the group. 

Just a few short weeks later, the argument is that specials won a game for the ‘Bows. On an on-and-off rainy night in Mānoa, Hawai’i converted on two field goal tries and recovered an onside kick right after scoring to open the second half, all giving huge boosts to morale among players and fans alike. 

Moreover, the coverage game on kicks has improved. The Aggies didn’t muster a single punt return yard and only had one kickoff return go for 25 yards. It was a far cry from the season-opening loss at Vanderbilt when the ‘Bows gave up the TD. 

That’s a big development for Hawai’i, a team that has openly talked about how they need to improve in all facets of the game if they want to achieve their goals for the year. A great step towards that is a consistently good special teams unit, which this group is turning into quickly. 

2. Matthew Shipley is a short-range weapon for the ‘Bows.

Despite missing from 51 yards out on Saturday, ‘Bows kicker Matthew Shipley was a hero. Continuing his college career-long trend, the senior from Texas was money from inside 30 yards for the 24th time in 24 career tries as he put an exclamation point on the UH comeback from 24 yards out. 

Shipley was 2-for-3 on the day kicking overall and did a nice job working double-duty as the ‘Bows place kicker and punter. His punts did not get returned for any yards and he didn’t have a touchback as the punter all night. 

As much as head coach Timmy Chang and staff likes to be aggressive, especially in the red zone on fourth down, Shipley provides a sturdy option to tack on three points any time a drive stall deep in opposing territory. That’ll be a key tool to have as Hawai’i heads into the conference slate. 

3. The running attack has multiple options in the absence of Tylan Hines and they’re doing a great job. 

For the third straight game, sophomore tailback Jordan Johnson led the Rainbow Warriors’ running attack. After setting new career-highs in his season-debut against UAlbany, Johnson continues to add a spark in the backfield that has underperformed after being a strength of UH’s just a season ago. 

That unit was led by Dedrick Parsons, who graduated last spring, and Hines at mostly-full health. This season, Hines has been dealing with a step up from bumps and bruises since Week 0 and hadn’t fully recovered his burst so far. Senior RB Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei is still in the process of ramping himself up after a training camp injury sidelined him for the first couple weeks of games, though it is easy to see the bruiser starting to get his legs back under him. 

In the meantime, it’s been Johnson and fellow sophomore RB Landon Sims taking the lion’s share of the rushing attempts. In three games, the duo has combined for 225 yards on the ground while Johnson has averaged 6.6 yards every carry to lead all Hawai’i rushers. 

With Hines still an unknown with an injury, the Rainbow Warriors’ runners are ready to step up in his absence. That’s a good thing for a team that excels passing the ball and has displayed a mightily improved defense as they head into battles against familiar conference foes. If Hawai’i wants to close out close games, a reliable running attack is a must. It’s starting to feel like that’s what the ‘Bows have again. 

4. Koali Nishigaya’s breakout season is just getting started.

The 2020 Saint Louis ATH walked onto UH’s football team, just hoping to work for a shot at making the roster before focusing on more. This past summer, his work had culminated in a scholarship offer to him from his hometown school while they switched fully to his high school offensive scheme. Everything began to line up for the 5-foot-7 slot receiver and he has seen extended action this season despite not being listed among the top six receivers on the depth chart. 

With four more catches Saturday night, Nishigaya is now over 125 yards receiving this season and caught his second career touchdown against the Aggies. While Pofele Ashlock and Steven McBride are the flashy names through five games for Hawai’i, the smaller Nishigaya has emerged as a dependable 3rd down target for Brayden Schager and has helped the offense become more efficient moving the chains. 

In the biggest moments of the game, Nishigaya was on the field getting opportunities to make plays to help his team. It was what he came to UH for in the first place, to compete and help the ‘Bows win. As Hawai’i heads into conference play, Nishigaya adds another trick up Timmy’s sleeve. 

5. The defense needs to wrap up and tackle better if they want to get to bowl game eligibility. 

Okay, I was positive Paul for the first four takeaways but anyone who watched the game knows there were some issues for Hawai’i despite coming away with a W. Don’t worry, it won’t be harping on negatives but merely an observation from Saturday (and the games prior, really). 

Injuries have gashed the ‘Bows through the non-conference schedule, seeing star cornerback Cam Stone miss two games after suffering an injury late against Stanford and losing last season’s leading tackler in LB Logan Taylor to a torn left ACL. The injury to Taylor was a gut-punch to a ‘Bows defense that looked to the senior as their spiritual and vocal leader in the middle of the defense. This past weekend saw CB Virdel Edwards II miss his first contest as a Rainbow Warrior and fellow defensive back Jojo Forest left late against UAlbany with an injury. 

The ‘Bows have also dealt with ejections and suspensions from targeting penalties, forcing Meki Pei and Isaiah Tufaga each to miss two halves of action. Overall, plenty of UH players have heard their number called to play snaps for numerous reasons in 2023. 

It happened before injuries, but missed tackles and an inability to wrap up has allowed opposing offenses to run wild against Hawai’i after initial contact. With an elite secondary that continues to get better with every game, teams will look to exploit the run against the ‘Bows to open up the attack in the air. 

It’s not like UH has struggled getting penetration or a hit behind the line of scrimmage this season but backs shedding ‘Bows defenders has extended drives and added extra points against the Rainbow Warriors that could’ve been prevented. 

Luckily for Hawai’i fans, they can look to the penalty issue that plagued the ‘Bows to begin the year for hope that the staff can quickly correct the team’s deficiencies. After multiple weeks of over 100 free yards in penalties given up to opponents, Hawai’i was flagged just four times for 25 yards on Saturday against the Aggies. This comes on the heels of just five penalties for 27 yards against Oregon despite a frustrating loss, showing multiple steps from the team the visited Vanderbilt to open the year. With the improvement on specials and in penalties, the little things don’t go unnoticed by this staff. It’s on the players to put this next step to use on the field. 

“Ship-Shot”: Shipley’s last-second FG propels Hawai’i over New Mexico State, 20-17

“Ship-Shot”: Shipley’s last-second FG propels Hawai’i over New Mexico State, 20-17

“Ship-Shot”: Shipley’s last-second FG propels Hawai’i over New Mexico State, 20-17


HONOLULU – An on-and-off rainy night in Manoa saw soaked ‘Bows fans go home happy after senior kicker Matthew Shipley drilled a 24-yard field goal as time expired to complete Hawai’i’s second-half comeback win over New Mexico State, 20-17. 

The vibes in the Hawai’i locker room postgame were high after avenging what coaches and players alike called an “embarrassing” loss last season on the road at NMSU, elated from a multi-score second half comeback to close out the non-conference schedule. 

It didn’t seem to be trending that way early, as the Aggies (2-3) jumped ahead with RB Monte Watkins’ 39-yard TD catch – a screen that forced three missed Hawai’i tackles – for an early 7-0 1st quarter lead. NMSU chipped on three more just a few minutes into the 2nd quarter on a 35-yard field goal from Ethan Albertson to cap off a 14-play, 54-yard drive that lasted over eight minutes. 

Hawai’i looked sluggish up to that point, running five plays before punting on the ensuing possession. The ‘Bows needed a shot in the arm, some kind of boost, “Jordan’s Secret Stuff” even. 

What they got was the Sauce. 

New Mexico State drove the field after the UH punt, ripping off two straight runs of bouncing off tacklers for extra yards to get the ball to the Hawai’i 20-yard line before ‘Bows DL Daniel “Sauce” Williams ripped loose a Star Thomas rushing attempt and returned it 41 yards to set up the Rainbow Warriors’ first score of the night. 

While momentum started shifting, Hawai’i couldn’t quite get six on the gifted extra possession from Williams. The ‘Bows settled from 35 yards out and allowed Shipley to do the rest, cutting the Aggies’ lead to 10-3 with 5:27 left in the half. 

The visitors from the mainland refused to let go of their grasp of the game so easily, answering Hawai’i’s first score of the night with an 8-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that saw NMSU QB Diego Pavia hit Star Thomas for a 21-yard TD and a two-touchdown lead for the C-USA representatives. 

Hawai’i had a chance to add another field goal with six seconds left, a try from 51 yards out, but the career-long try was wide for Shipley and the ‘Bows entered the locker room down two scores and mustering less than 100 yards of total offense in 30 minutes of play. 

The halftime speech must have been as electrifying as Williams’ fumble recovery and return because a different Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors team hit the field for the second half. New Mexico State dominated the first half, winning the possession-time battle while being 5-of-7 on 3rd down conversions. The Aggies also had seven more 1st downs in the opening half of play. 

The Hawai’i offense immediately looked to have re-found a rhythm, driving 75 yards in eight plays on the opening possession of the second half. ‘Bows QB Brayden Schager got his first career rushing touchdown to finish the drive, running it in from four yards out to make it a one-score game, 17-10. 

Looking to capitalize on the momentum swing out of the break, the ‘Bows special teams unit pulled off a surprise onside kick and recovered it to give the home squad a chance to tie it quickly. An overturned Steven McBride catch followed by a nine-yard loss on a sack killed the drive quickly for Hawai’i, though. 

New Mexico State tried to answer back with a haymaker of their own, a 42-yard completion down the sideline to WR Jordin Parker to set themselves up deep in Rainbow Warrior territory, but the ‘Bows defense held strong. The Aggies settled for a 43-yard try that went wide-left, keeping it a one-score game with 6:00 left in the 3rd quarter. 

Once again, the Run-N-Shoot was running and shooting down the field with a mix of rushes by RB Landon Sims and Jordan Johnson between dimes by Schager to different receivers. The ‘Bows worked their way down inside the New Mexico State 10-yard line before the Aggies’ defense forced a Schager fumble and recovered it to end the UH threat just before the end of the third quarter. 

Luckily for the ‘Bows, NMSU ended up pinned inside their own 10-yard line for the next offensive drive and allowed Hawai’i to pin the ears back and force a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. 

With a second chance to tie it, Hawai’i capitalized. Schager led an 11-play, 43-yard scoring drive, tossing a 3-yard TD to WR Koali Nishigaya to knot the game at 17 with 7:19 left in regulation. Dating back to last season, it’s the 14th straight game the junior QB has thrown a touchdown pass for the ‘Bows. 

Looking to drain the clock with an all-conference kicker in their back pocket, New Mexico State turned back to the running game that had treated them well in the past two matchups with Hawai’i. After some initial success, the drive stalled near midfield as the ‘Bows forced a punt and gave the offense a chance to win the game with three minutes left in regulation. 

Starting inside their own 30, Hawai’i quickly worked its way into Aggies’ territory with completions of 13 and 22 yards to Johnson and WR Pofele Ashlock. Facing a big third-and-9 at the NMSU 36, Schager delivered a strike to McBride for a 12-yard gain to move the chains and run the clock under 60 seconds. 

A pass interference penalty drawn by Ashlock in the endzone on the next play set up first-and-goal for the ‘Bows, who ran the clock all the way down to two seconds before taking a timeout and setting up a chip shot 24-yard field goal attempt for Shipley to win it. The kicker from Liberty Hill, Texas calmly stepped to his spot and nailed the kick to send everyone home happy and give Hawai’i a lift heading into Mountain West play after a 20-17 win. 

New Mexico State QB Diego Pavia finished 9-of-15 with 155 yards passing and two touchdowns and led the Aggies’ rushing attack with 97 yards on the ground. Junior RB Star Thomas led NMSU receivers with four catches and a touchdown, while Jordin Parker had the most receiving yards for the visitors (42). 

Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager finished with 245 yards and two total TDs (1 pass, 1 rush) on 26-of-38 passing and did not throw an interception (though he did lose his first fumble of the year) in the ‘Bows comeback win. He looked much more decisive with the ball in the second half as he led the charge back. Sophomore RB Jordan Johnson led the rushing attack with 44 yards on nine carries while chipping in an extra 35 yards receiving. 

Freshman WR Pofele Ashlock led the way again for the ‘Bows with seven catches for 77 yards, though the Aggies’ defense was able to keep the talented pass catcher out of the end zone. Senior WR Steven McBride had 47 yards on four catches, while WR Jalen Walthall helped move the chains with his six catches for 32 yards. 

‘Bows kicker Matthew Shipley said that the missed field goal try from 51 yards before the end of the first half was already out of his mind and not impacting his mental approach before lining up to win it for the ‘Bows. It was the first game-winning kick as time expired for UH since 2001 (via Christian Shimabuku – KHON2).

Hawai’i hits the road next week to open Mountain West Conference play, heading to the “Ninth Island” for a matchup with UNLV. The Rebels (3-1) visited (and held off) UTEP this past weekend, 45-28, and enter the matchup with the ‘Bows on a two-game win streak. The game kicks off at 10 a.m. HT on the Mountain West Network. UNLV opens as 11-point favorites at home against UH. 

After a roller coaster ride of a non-conference slate, the ‘Bows have made it to conference play with two wins and a reinvigorated hope towards the rebuild of the #BRADDAHHOOD at UH. A gritty victory to keep the Aggies winless in Honolulu was a great step forward for the young ‘Bows. Up next, a step up in testing against the Rebels.