Hawai’i plays complimentary football to upset Air Force on Veterans Day, 27-13

Hawai’i plays complimentary football to upset Air Force on Veterans Day, 27-13

Hawai’i plays complimentary football to upset Air Force on Veterans Day, 27-13


HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (4-7, 2-4 MWC) secured the biggest win of the Timmy Chang era Saturday, trouncing Air Force (8-2, 5-1 MWC) to take back the Kuter Trophy with a 27-13 win at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex. UH was able to start quick and end strong, handing the Falcons the first conference loss in 2023 and setting up an explosive final two weeks atop the Mountain West standings. 

Below, you can find the quick hitters of all the action from UH’s 27-13 upset win over Air Force, the second win in as many weeks for the ‘Bows. 


  • Hawai’i receives the opening kickoff, goes through the back of the end zone for a touchback. Reserve QB Dalen Morris, an active member of the Navy and short-yardage specialist, picks up the game’s first 1st down on a QB draw up the middle. 
  • ‘Bows quickly move down the field with a balanced offensive attack, alternating pass and run. WR Koali Nishigaya shakes off a couple of defenders to set UH up at the Air Force 5-yard line and Pofele Ashlock takes it in on the next play to give Hawai’i the lead, 7-0, with 7:58 left in the 1st quarter. 
        • Ashlock’s TD reception was his fifth TD catch in the last 5 games and also marked the first time that UH had scored on its first offensive possession of a game all year.
  • Air Force picks up one 1st down on its opening drive before UH’s defense buckled down to force the Falcons to punt. 
  • The Rainbow Warriors’ offense continues cooking, smoothly moving down the field into field goal range before being stopped on 3rd-&-short. K Matthew Shipley’s 48-yard FG try is no good, going wide-left to end the 1st quarter of play. 
        • The miss by Shipley was the senior’s first FG attempt to go awry since September 23 at New Mexico State. 
  • The Falcons’ offense moves methodically down the field, facing (and converting) multiple 3rd & 4th downs and short to work into the red zone. Hawai’i’s defense makes a stand, holding AFA to a 25-yard FG to keep the lead, 7-3. 
        • Air Force’s 2nd offensive drive spanned 11 minutes and 49 seconds. 
  • Hawai’i quickly marches down the field, using a Brayden Schager 40-yard scramble to move into Falcons’ territory before an incredible Steven McBride toe-tap catch set the ‘Bows up at the Air Force 1-yard line. 
        • The 40-yard rush by Schager was a career-long for the QB and marked UH’s longest running play of the year. 
  • After a few tries come up short, Hawai’i uses the “Braddahly Shove” to push Schager into the end zone for a TD with two seconds left in the 2nd quarter of play. Shipley missed the ensuing point-after-attempt wide-left as the ‘Bows took the 13-3 lead into the halftime break. 
        • The wide-left PAT is just the second miss in 121 career attempts for Shipley.


  • Air Force receives the opening kickoff and calls for a fair catch, bringing the ball out to their own 25. The Falcons quickly work down the field and score on a 35-yard run by Dylan Carson, going 75 yards in five plays to cut the Hawai’i lead down, 13-10.  
  • The Rainbow Warriors answer back with a touchdown of their own as Pofele Ashlock’s 2nd TD catch of the night puts UH back up by 10. 
        • It’s the 2nd straight week Ashlock has had multiple scores and his third multi-TD game of the season. 
  • Air Force’s 1st official pass attempt of the day goes for a 65-yard gain to Cade Harris, who was chased down by UH CB Cam Stone to save Hawai’i from a would-be Falcons’ TD. A holding penalty would kill momentum for AFA, who would settle for a 27-yard FG try from K Matthew Dapore that missed to the left. 
  • Hawai’i’s offense moves past midfield to close out the 3rd quarter of action. The ‘Bows would punt just a minute into the final quarter after David Cordeiro’s run on 3rd down was stopped short of the line-to-gain. 
  • Air Force coughs up a fumble after LB Jalen Smith demolishes AFA backup QB Jensen Jones in the backfield and Meki Pei returns it for the 1st defensive TD of the season for Hawai’i, giving the ‘Bows a 27-10 lead with 11:02 left in regulation. 
        • The fumble return TD from Pei was the first fumble returned for a touchdown by a Hawai’i defense since 2021 at Utah State. 
  • AFA responds with a 21-yard FG after a four minute, forty-two second drive to make it a two-score game with 6:20 left in the 4th quarter. 
  • After being forced to punt, Hawai’i comes up with the first of three 4th quarter interceptions as Jensen Jones’ arm is hit while he throws, and Noah Kema secures the pick. 
        • The INT was the first of Kema’s career. 
  • After wasting a minute of game-clock and punting it away, Hawai’i’s defense comes away with another interception as Peter Manuma picked off 3rd-string AFA QB Ben Brittain to spoil another Falcons’ scoring chance. 
  • UH’s Stone comes up with his 1st INT of the season, the 3rd pick of the quarter and fourth takeaway total, to seal the win for the Rainbow Warriors and hand Air Force a conference loss for the first time in 2023. 

The Hawai’i defense forced a season-best four turnovers as the Rainbow Warriors strung together two wins for the first time under head coach Timmy Chang. The evening was filled with season-best performances as the ‘Bows committed no turnovers of their own for the second time all year and eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for just the third time in 2023. 

The 13 points by Air Force marked a season-low by a Hawai’i opponent as the Rainbow Warriors’ defense buckled down. Peter Manuma led the way with a new career-high 12 tackles, matching a season-high for the ‘Bows, set by Isaiah Tufaga earlier in the season at New Mexico. 

Brayden Schager finished an efficient 22-of-29 passing for 176 yards and three total TDs (2 pass, 1 rush) while setting a new career best with 57 rush yards to lead the Rainbow Warriors. 

Pofele Ashlock hauled in a career-high 12 catches, the most by a Hawai’i receiver since the 2019 season-opener against Arizona. It marked the second straight game the redshirt freshman was able to find the end zone multiple times for UH. 

Hawai’i looks to make it three-in-a-row next weekend as the ‘Bows hit the road to take on Wyoming in the final road contest of the 2023 season for UH. 

Hawai’i runs over Nevada 27-14, picks up 1st road win under Chang

Hawai’i runs over Nevada 27-14, picks up 1st road win under Chang

Aug 26, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Hawaii Warriors wide receiver Pofele Ashlock (86) celebrates with running back Landon Sims (30) after a touchdown during the second half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at FirstBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Hawai’i runs over Nevada 27-14, picks up 1st road win under Chang 


The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (3-7, 1-4 MWC) snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday, taking down the Nevada Wolfpack (2-7, 2-3), 27-14, for the program’s first conference win of the season and the first road victory in head coach Timmy Chang’s year-plus in charge of the program. 

Below, you can find quick hitter from all the action of Hawai’i’s 27-14 road victory over Nevada. 


  • Hawai’i receives the opening kickoff, picks up two 1st downs on the game’s first drive before being forced to punt. 
  • Nevada’s offense is forced to punt as the UH defense gets a three-and-out on the Wolfpack’s first possession. 
  • The ‘Bows pick up two more 1st downs but can’t do much more after a Nevada targeting penalty is picked up and a block in the back on Hawai’i kills offensive momentum. 
  • Hawai’i’s Isaiah Tufaga forces another fumble, his second in as many weeks, and it’s recovered by UH’s Elijah Palmer near midfield. 
  • UH gets on the board quickly after the takeaway, as K Matthew Shipley knocked home a career-best 50-yard FG for a 3-0 lead with 12:55 left in the first half. 
  • Nevada is able to work into Hawai’i territory, getting inside the 40-yard line before the offense stopped advancing and was forced to punt. 
  • The initial Wolfpack punt is perfect, resting at Hawai’i’s 1 without being touched. Unfortunately for Nevada, the punt is erased due to a false start. The second try goes into the end zone for a touchback. 
  • The teams trade punts before the game’s 1st TD drive, an 8-play, 57-yard drive for Hawai’i capped with 1-yard TD run from QB Dalen Morris to give the ‘Bows a 10-0 lead with 3:54 remaining in the 2nd quarter. 
  • The UH defense forces another three-and-out & the fifth punt in the 1st half from Nevada to get one more offensive chance before the halftime break. 
  • HAW QB Brayden Schager uses his arm AND legs to lead the ‘Bows down the field on another scoring drive, going 65 yards in 2:22 and connecting with WR Pofele Ashlock for a 26-yard TD pass and a 17-0 lead at half. 
  • For the first time since October of 2022, Hawai’i held an opponent scoreless in the opening half of play. 


  • Nevada opens the 3rd quarter with another three-and-out, Hawai’i answers back with a punt of their own. 
  • Former St. Louis QB and current Nevada QB AJ Bianco shows off his elusiveness, evading defenders to extend the drive and help the Wolfpack get on the board on the drive. RB Sean Dollars ran it in from two yards out for the Nevada score, making it 17-7. 
  • Hawai’i’s offense continues to struggle, giving the ball back to Nevada before the ‘Bows defense stepped up for their counterparts once again. Peter Manuma intercepts Bianco and returns it inside the Nevada 10 to set up the UH offense. 
  • The ‘Bows score for the second time off of a takeaway in the game as Schager finds Ashlock for the touchdown, again, to extend the lead back to 17 with 7:13 remaining in the 3rd quarter. 
  • Once again, the ‘Bows defense would do the job and force another punt from Nevada. WR Steven McBride fumbled the punt, and it was recovered inside the Hawai’i 30 by the Wolfpack. 
  • Nevada capitalized on multiple UH errors, including an ejection of CB Virdel Edwards II after two unsportsmanlike flags, as Dollars found the end zone for the second time to make it a 10-point game with 2:52 left in the 3rd. 
  • Hawai’i adds on three more after Shipley connects on his 2nd 50-yard FG of the afternoon, capping a drive spilling from the end of the 3rd and into the start of the 4th quarter to give the ‘Bows a 27-14 lead. 
  • Nevada drives deep into the red zone, even getting to the Hawai’i 1-yard line before getting turned away and turning the ball over on downs to keep the score at 27-14. 
  • Hawai’i’s offense is turned down, giving the ball back to the Wolfpack with under five minutes left in regulation. 
  • Two more times, the Hawai’i defense forces a turnover-on-downs by the Nevada offense after the Wolfpack to close out the road win with 6.0 sacks. 

Hawai’i posted a season-high six sacks and won the turnover battle for the first time all year as the ‘Bows defense, much maligned in recent weeks for lackluster performances, flexed their might and muscle against a Nevada team that had won two straight weeks before the matchup. UH also recorded 10 TFLs on Saturday. 

Continuing in the “uncharacteristic Hawai’i” category, the ‘Bows led for the first time at halftime all year and out-rushed an opponent, 136-to-124, while Schager completed 21-of-38 passes for 203 yards and two TDs and no interceptions and added another 49 yards with his legs. 

Redshirt freshman Pofele Ashlock continued his strong first season of college play with another standout performance, leading the ‘Bows with nine catches for 87 yards and two scores. WR Steven McBride finished the afternoon hauling in four passes for 52 yards. 

LB Isaiah Tufaga and S Peter Manuma each helped create takeaways by the ‘Bows defense, something that has been a struggle (along with getting pressure) all season. While it might be too late for Hawai’i to make a run at a bowl game, there were massive signs of life on Hawai’i sideline in Reno. 

The Rainbow Warriors return home next week to host #25 Air Force, who fell on the road to formerly 2-6 Army on Saturday, 23-3. Can the ‘Bows help spoil AFA’s Mountain West title hopes? 

Hawai’i looking to “start faster” ahead of road test at New Mexico

Hawai’i looking to “start faster” ahead of road test at New Mexico

Hawai’i looking to “start faster” ahead of road test at New Mexico


HONOLULU — At this point of the 2023 college football season, slow starts and the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors have become synonymous with each other. It has become especially frustrating for fans, coaches, and players alike as the team continues to come up short late despite inspired comeback performances at times. 

The ‘Bows hit the road this weekend to take on fellow winless-in-conference-play opponent New Mexico with a pair of streaks directly opposing the other. Head coach Timmy Chang has yet to win a road contest as the lead man of the Rainbow Warriors in a year-and-a-half at the helm of the program, despite some down-to-the-wire games that didn’t bounce the way of the ‘Bows. On the other side, UNM currently holds the longest conference losing streak in the nation with 14 consecutive losses in Mountain West play. Even more, the Lobos haven’t won a home conference football game in 20 straight outings. The last home Mountain West victory came back in 2017 when New Mexico took down Air Force, 56-38, in their 2nd conference game of the season. 

As the Rainbow Warriors come to town, one of the streaks will be forced to end for the programs fighting to escape the cellar of the Mountain West in 2023. Whose streak ends remains to be seen as both programs have strengths and weaknesses that diametrically oppose the other. Who can start fast? Who can finish strong? Most of all, who can leave the other looking up at the rest of the conference with a win on Saturday? 

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of time so you can make your own call.

Tale of the Tape – New Mexico, old friends come around once again. 

New Mexico and Hawai’i have met each other on the football field 26 times ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Rainbow Warriors holding the advantage, 16-10 all-time. A popular rivalry in the WAC back in the 1960s, the program’s inaugural game took place in 1964 and saw 17 more games between the schools be played over the next 20 seasons before taking nearly a 40-year hiatus from facing off in between the white lines. 

The rivalry took on a new meaning in 2012 when Hawai’i joined the Mountain West and the programs saw each other on the field once again. In five meetings since then, the ‘Bows have gone 2-3 but won the past two contests coming back in 2018 and 2019. Since then, New Mexico brought in a new head man for the program in Danny Gonzales, who is 9-28 in his four seasons taking over the reins. New Mexico’s head coach had history with the program, spending four seasons as a player for the Lobos before spending seven years as part of the coaching staff after graduating in various roles. Gonzales had stops at San Diego State and Arizona State in coordinator roles before coming back home to the program he once played in. It’ll be the second time the ‘Bows while take part in a game this season where both teams have head coaches that are alumni of the program they lead (Clark Lea, Vanderbilt in Week 0 was the other instance). 

All of those words should read: who knows with this one? 

Two teams that have struggled in their own ways, with Hawai’i on a 9-game slide on the road since Chang took over and UNM on a 20-game home conference losing streak that dates back to 2017. The ‘Bows have struggled in the first half this season, where the Lobos have excelled at times. New Mexico is coming off a nightmare-second half that Gonzales called “as bad [a team performance] as he had been a part of” in all three phases of the game, where Hawai’i has been far better in the second half of contests this season than in the first half of play. 

With both teams sitting in the cellar of the Mountain West standings currently, it’ll be vital for each team’s stars to show up with force on Saturday to try and help their program make a late-season push for the postseason. 

Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

The ‘Bows junior gunslinger has put up numbers this season, checking in at sixth in the nation in total passing yards with 2,088 yards in seven outings this year. Schager has even outpaced presumed-NFL 1st overall pick and USC QB Caleb Williams in the same number of games in yards and ranks just below other notable names such as Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., recently reaching a new peak with a new career-best 427 yards through the air last week at home against San Diego State. 

Despite Hawai’i’s struggles on the road, their QB has continued to put up solid numbers trying to keep the team in it during many second half comeback attempts. In three away games this year, Schager has thrown for an average of 265 yards a game while throwing six TDs and four INTs in those outings. He’s done it on respectable completion numbers as well, completing 76-of-113 passes — good for a 67.2% completion rate. 

If the ‘Bows are to pick up their first road victory under coach Chang and continue the home slide that New Mexico has been on, it will be because Schager continues to take strides towards being an elite QB in the conference.  

He’s been phenomenal completing the deep ball this season, leading the country with seven completions of 50+ yards, while continuing to produce with at least one touchdown pass a game in 16 straight games. 

His growth has taken the attention of opposing coaches throughout the Mountain West, who continue to sing the praises of the 6-foot-3 quarterback. UNM HC Danny Gonzales said that Schager was a QB that can “throw all over the place” and commented on the fact that despite Schager’s desire to throw the ball, the junior has begun to run in key situations more this season. This comes just a week after SDSU HC Brady Hoke told reporters that he had liked Schager for three years and called him a “really good player” and a pro-style QB. 

While those compliments feel nice, Schager himself would be the first to tell you they don’t mean much to him without wins accompanying them. This week on the road against a New Mexico team in a similar spot to his Hawai’i program, Schager has a prime chance to grab a win while continuing to put on display all of the steps forward he has taken this season. 

Jordan Johnson – RB (Soph.) 

Eventually, we will get the running back of the week correct here. 

Another player that coach Gonzales had high praise for in his Tuesday media availability, Johnson has stepped up in the absence of fellow back Tylan Hines this season. Should Hines continue to miss time with an injury sapping his explosiveness, the ‘Bows have an excellent player to take his place in the meantime. 

Johnson holds the best rushing performance of the season for UH with his 76-yard performance at home against UAlbany and had been a consistent 35-40 rushing yards a game since before taking just one carry against the Aztecs last week. 

Despite the lack of action, Gonzales didn’t have a lack of good things to say about the running back from Dallas, Texas, calling Johnson an explosive back and comparing him to “a little jitterbug that’s physical” and saying his speed can cause problems for opposing defenses. 

Johnson is also a player who can contribute to the passing attack, though that part of his game has been more hit-or-miss over the course of the season. In Hawai’i’s thrilling comeback win over New Mexico State, the 5-foot-9 back had a season-high 35 receiving yards to go along with 44 yards on the ground. 

The ‘Bows could use a similar performance against another college located in New Mexico, this time on the road facing the Lobos. If he’s healthy and Hines is still working his way back, look to Johnson to try and get the ‘Bows rushing attack charged up and help supplement an elite passing game. 

Peter Manuma – S (Soph.) 

Another repeat member of the “players to watch” portion of these articles, Manuma got banged up throughout UH’s 41-34 loss to SDSU last week but also recorded his first interception of the season while registering a season-high nine tackles (including one TFL). 

The high-energy sophomore is hard to miss on the field for the Rainbow Warriors for plenty of reasons, from his energy to his hair to his actual play. Manuma exhibits everything Hawai’i defense is supposed to be in a heat-seeking missile of a player that talks the talk and walks the walk between the white lines. 

Speaking of between the white lines, that’s everything Manuma covers for this UH defensive unit. The 6-foot sophomore safety can be seen involved in almost all plays past the line of scrimmage and his speed allows him to lock in on targets and pursue from across the field. He has also struggled with some missed tackles this season (as has the rest of the Hawai’i defense) that seem to stick out because he is so consistently involved in plays. 

Another player that Gonzales sang the praises of, it’ll be important for Manuma to finish on plays this Saturday while just being himself. The Hawai’i safety said he was okay to play following a physically-taxing Week 7 contest, but it can be tough to trust yourself to move the same when pain/injury are involved. 

If the free-ranging safety continues his style of attacking play while cleaning up missed tackles, he’ll help a Hawai’i defensive unit that has typically allowed opposing teams to gash them for explosive plays. If Manuma and the ‘Bows can limit explosives for UNM while producing plenty of their own, it’s a formula for a Timmy Chang and Hawai’i road win. 


Players to Watch — New Mexico Lobos 

Dylan Hopkins – QB (Sr.) 

Hopkins enters Saturday’s contest already as one of the best QBs in recent Lobos’ memory, already ranking fourth in single season passing yards since 2010 for the program with 1,165 yards in six games. The senior needs just 252 yards to move into the top three since 2010 and would take over the best single-season yardage production for a Lobos’ quarterback in the last 14 years with a game of 330+ passing yards against Hawai’i. 

That would be a tall ask for Hopkins, seeing as the Hawai’i defense has yet to give up a 300-yard passing performance to any single QB this season in seven games. That’s not the request from his Lobos’ coaches, who just hope to see the senior signal caller continue to be who he has been in 2023. Using his COVID year of eligibility, the former UAB QB came to the desert after throwing for nearly 4,500 yards and 31 TDs while throwing just 16 interceptions across 32 games played. He’s enjoyed a solid first half to his “super-senior” season with UNM, tossing seven touchdowns and only three picks so far. He’s not the dual-threat QB that other programs have had against UH this season, but much like Schager will use his legs enough to get by and move the sticks when the defense presents the opportunity. 

It’s key for Hawai’i’s defensive backfield to continue holding the standard of which they’ve played while the ‘Bows defensive line needs to do a better job getting home and finishing the job with sacks against opposing QBs after a few games without a recorded sack. With a bit less of a running quarterback across from them, it’s key for UH’s defense to limit the effectiveness of the fifth-year QB of the Lobos in a balanced New Mexico offensive attack. 

DJ Washington – WR (Sr.) 

Coming to Albuquerque with two years of eligibility after dominating the junior college level, the 6-foot-5 Washington has provided an additional jump ball threat for the Lobos’ offense and has been a comfortable target for Hopkins to look for. Washington’s 10 receptions are tied for 2nd-most among UNM pass catchers and is tied for the team lead with two touchdown receptions. 

With a bigger frame, Washington has the frame to box out smaller defenders and carve out short-yardage receptions to help move the chains. It’ll be interesting to see how the ‘Bows counter the Lobos’ hulking receiver with the variety of defensive backs at UH DC Jacob Yoro’s disposal. Washington is not close to the most explosive skill player for Gonzales’ program, so I wouldn’t expect a Cam Stone to travel with him and Virdel Edwards II could see another assignment with four players with 100 or more yards receiving on the UNM roster. 

If the Lobos are able to drive the length of the field, all eyes should be on Washington in the short-yardage passing plays in the red zone. 

He most likely won’t break long-yardage plays against the Hawai’i defense, but don’t be surprised if he is a pesky thorn in the side of the ‘Bows as they try to get off the field on defense. 

Jacory Croskey-Merritt – RB (Sr.)

Normally, these previews will include a defensive player to change up the offense chatter that fills the conversation. 

Not this week. 

The ‘Bows need to focus on not playing from behind as they head to New Mexico and the best way to stop the Lobos from scoring is to shut down the most consistent threat to enter the end zone. 

Croskey-Merritt is another new face to the program, spending the past four seasons at Alabama State before making the jump to the Mountain West. The fifth-year senior ran for 1,164 yards and 13 TDs in 31 career games and just two 100-yard rushing performances before his transfer to New Mexico. It’s been a rewarding transition as he leads the Lobos’ rushing attack with 431 yards on 63 attempts, good for an average of 6.8 yards per touch. 

Even more, he’s already run for seven scores on the ground in just five games played after scoring 13 total in 31 games at his last stop. 

He’ll be the main threat of an extremely balanced UNM offensive attack that will also throw other faces in the backfield to keep Croskey-Merritt as fresh as possible while trying to wear down the Hawai’i defense at the same time. 

It’s critical that UH doesn’t lose track of the 5-foot-11, 204-pound running back and get to him early behind the line of scrimmage. If he’s able to run wild, the ‘Bows could be in for a long afternoon. 

There’s reason to believe he’s heating up in production as well despite two straight losses to conference opponents. In those games, Croskey-Merritt ran for 171 yards total and a pair of scores versus quality opponents in Wyoming and San Jose State. 

For a team that has struggled at times against the run, keying in on the lead back for New Mexico seems smart. 


What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – Hawai’i @ New Mexico 

This weekend’s contest pits a pair of programs working tirelessly to rebuild to heights once seen and beyond but both clawing to get by the beginning stages of said-rebuild. With both sides having prime chances at ending streaks that are on the minds of players and coaches, Saturday’s game promises to be hard-fought despite it being the first meeting between programs in five years. Here are more specific things to keep an eye on as the teams take the field at 12:00 p.m. HT on Saturday. 

  • Can Hawai’i continue serving up “Schager Bombs” or is this the week that UNM figures out how to defend the deep ball? The ‘Bows best offensive attack to this point has been the quick drives that spawn from Schager throwing a rainbow spiral down the field to one of his streaking receivers for 50+ yards at a time. Defending deep passes was a concern New Mexico HC Danny Gonzales mentioned earlier in the week. 
  • Who wins the turnover battle? Hawai’i hasn’t been able to produce takeaways at the level the defense was expected to this year, losing the turnover battle in five of seven games so far and tying in the other two contests. Going against a Lobos program that hasn’t produced a takeaway in four weeks and has given the ball away four times in that same span, can Hawai’i win both the turnover competition and a road game for the first time this year? 
  • Discipline matters! The ‘Bows were flagged a season-low two times for just 11 yards in their loss to SDSU but have seen plenty of laundry on the field because of them this season before the bye week. Did they fix that? UNM has been the 2nd-most penalized team per game in the nation, averaging 9.8 flags per contest. In a battle between even opponents, who gives away less free yardage? 
  • Will somebody play hero? Each week it feels that the ‘Bows are crushed by one player on the opposing team in particular while also having a true no-doubt-about-it standout themselves. Which one of those “stars of the game” will emerge this week and how much can one player have on the final result of a football game? 

Hawai’i enters must-win territory once again to keep postseason hopes alive and New Mexico finds itself in a similar situation. History won’t play much of a role in this edition of the series after the four-year hiatus between meetings but a chance to be written into the history of the matchup is there for the taking. 

Saturday will be the time to show for the ‘Bows and Lobos. 

The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV with kickoff scheduled for noon HT on Saturday, October 21. 

“Must-Win”; ‘Bows understand importance of non-conference finale against Aggies

“Must-Win”; ‘Bows understand importance of non-conference finale against Aggies

Hawaii’s Brayden Schager, left, passes against Oregon during the first half in Eugene, Ore. Sept. 16, 2023. Credit/© Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard/USA TODAY NETWORK

“Must-Win”; ‘Bows understand importance of non-conference finale against Aggies


HONOLULU – There was no stuttering from the ‘Bows following their Tuesday morning practice regarding the mindset going into Saturday’s matchup versus New Mexico State (2-2). The Aggies, a team that Hawai’i (1-3) has historically had the number of before falling 45-26 in Las Cruces during the ‘22 season, have been on the mind of UH since then due to the embarrassment they felt. 

It’s been a feeling that’s been multiplied in the past few days as well, after a 55-10 shellacking against at-the-time #13 Oregon left the ‘Bows humbled as they put the metaphorical axe back to the grindstone. (Oregon moved up to #10 in the nation in the most recent CFB rankings) 

Hawai’i enters the weekend with an opportunity to pick up some positive momentum ahead of Mountain West conference play, taking on a quality New Mexico State team in the 12th meeting all-time between the two programs, and a chance to wash away the sour taste left by a pair of games on the minds of the ‘Bows. 

“These are must-wins for us,” Hawai’i head coach Timmy Chang said of the schedule before his team’s Week 6 bye. “We have to play better; we’ve got to execute. [NM State] is a good team, [Aggies head coach Jerry Kill] got those guys going early on in his first year there [in 2022]. That’s a good 2-2 team that going to come in and challenge us and we’ve got to answer the call.”   

Kill (who has a track record of turning programs around for the better) has been great for the Aggies, going 7-6 in his first season at the helm for New Mexico State. Prior to his arrival, the Aggies had never beaten the ‘Bows in 10 tries while giving up over 40 points in eight of the contests. In his first try versus the Rainbow Warriors, Kill’s unit held UH to just 26 points while running all over the defense. 

The visitors out of Conference USA come to Honolulu after an exciting 27-17 win over in-state rival New Mexico and looking to reach above .500 during the regular season for the first time since 2014. While the Aggies have twice finished the season at 7-6 since then, both of those seasons finished 6-6 ahead of Bowl season and never would reach a winning mark during the 12-game slates. 

With high stakes for both sides looking to build strong programs in the G5 world of FBS college football, Hawai’i will look to the past for help while New Mexico State hopes to keep the recent times rolling under head coach Kill with the program’s first ever win in Honolulu. 


Tale of the Tape – ‘Bows beat Aggies again & again, until they don’t 

As alluded to, before 2022 it was the Rainbow Warriors’ dream to see the Aggies on the schedule during the fall. For 10 straight games, the ‘Bows would defeat New Mexico State behind a potent offense like it was their job. When the whistle blows Saturday, Timmy Chang and company hope to bring shades of those games back to fans in attendance now. 

For Jerry Kill’s Aggies, they’ll look to continue business as usual after the only meeting between the programs with the current head coaches went the way of the Conference USA members. While it was just one matchup, it’s a game that has even QB1 for the ‘Bows still thinking about how they needed to be better. 

“I left out of there really embarrassed,” Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager recalled of the 2022 matchup. “I thought it was all around just a bad game, we didn’t play well on any phase of the ball.” 

The Aggies ran for 357 yards and five touchdowns, gashing the Hawai’i rushing defense repeatedly last year. That has been a common trend for the matchups, as NMSU has averaged 245 yards rushing across the last three meetings between teams. The Aggies also scored on a TD on 5-of-6 first half drives, compared to a measly 10 points from UH in the first 30 minutes of play. 

“We definitely still have that sour taste in our mouth from last year,” Schager added. “I think that’s something everybody remembers this week – just how bad that game was.” 



Players to Watch – Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 

Brayden Schager – QB (Jr.) 

I don’t care.  

You are going to listen to my reasoning why he’s on the list again and you will LIKE IT. 

Jokes aside, this week pits a pair of offenses off to an electric start in 2023 with a duo of QBs that rank inside the nation’s top 15 of passing yards and passing touchdowns. Of the two, Hawai’i’s Schager ranks higher with the third-most yards through the air in the nation with 1,103 yards while coming in at number four of all QBs with 11 passing TDs. 

We’ve seen the good – like leading the nation in passing yards for a few weeks to start the season while continuing his streak of games with at least 1 passing TD – the bad (tossing a pair of back-breaking picks against Vanderbilt), and the ugly at times this season from the junior signal-caller. 

Despite struggling against Oregon last week, Schager bounced back late with a touchdown to redshirt freshman Alex Perry to close the game on the right foot. It was important for the quarterback to do after going against (arguably) the best defense the ‘Bows will face all season. According to PFF, Schager had 4 turnover-worthy plays and was held without a big-time throw for the first time all season. 

Against the Aggies, it’ll be important for the gunslinger from Texas to get back to his production levels over the first three games of 2023. That means completing the easy ones underneath – sure – but also means the offense needs a healthy dosage of “Schager Bombs” to succeed. 

He’ll also need to take care of the football. He has thrown an interception in three of Hawai’i’s four games so far and is third nationally with six picks tossed this year. That’s part of what happens when you throw it as much as the Rainbow Warriors do. This season, Schager has thrown 34 more times than the next closest QB (Sheduer Sanders, 137) and saw three INTs in the same game – the ‘Bows 31-20 win against UAlbany. He has shown stretches of taking excellent care of the ball. 

In what is expected to be another pass-happy game with the Aggies’ aerial attack coming into town, Schager will get yet another chance to put up some eye-popping numbers this weekend. For the ‘Bows to win however, he’ll need to keep those notable statistics on the positive side of the books. He’s got a decent chance, too. The Aggies have yet to intercept a pass through four games. 

Pofele Ashlock – WR (R-Fr.) 

After two extremely productive games to begin his college career saw him get over the 100-yard receiving mark twice to go along with three trips to the endzone, Ashlock has seen a dip in production over the past couple of weeks. 

Against UAlbany, the 6-foot-1 wideout caught four passes for 74 yards and was held out of the endzone for the first time in his college career. Facing national-powerhouse Oregon presented different issues, as the redshirt freshman was able to catch eight balls but was held to his lowest yards output of the year with just 47 yards. 

He’s shown an ability to get open against even the top corners he has faced this season and should have another high-volume day of targets on Saturday. His speed and fluidity on the field has been a weapon through four games and a return to the endzone would boost the ‘Bows offense again. NMSU’s defense has given up five passing touchdowns in four games. 

He should have time to work deep as well while the UH offensive line protects against an Aggies’ unit that has mustered less sacks than games played in 2023 (three sacks, four games). Put together those factors and “Schager Bombs” – on the rocks to Pofele Ashlock – could be flying all over Manoa once again this weekend. 

Peter Manuma – S (Soph.) 

An All-Mountain West honorable mention in his true freshman season, Manuma has had an interesting start to his second college campaign. While productive with the second-most tackles for the defense this season, Manuma has yet to create a turnover for the ‘Bows. That was something he excelled at in his debut year with his hometown school, totaling two forced fumbles and two interceptions over 13 games.  

On top of that, Manuma has struggled with some untimely penalties that extended opponent drives through the first few weeks of 2023 to the point where he felt the need to address it himself following the UAlbany game. 

Under coach Kill, the Aggies have enjoyed a successful passing attack with dynamic plays of their own. While they are no “Schager Bombs”, New Mexico State has averaged almost 18 yards per completion this season, good for sixth-best nationally. Additionally, NMSU has complied a total of 11 plays through the air of 25+ yards, showing a propensity for the big shot at any time. 

All that to say, Manuma should get a chance to make some plays this coming weekend versus a team that likes to air it out nearly as much as the ‘Bows do. For the Rainbow Warriors to get back to winning ways against their CUSA foe, Manuma being impactful against the Aggies’ passing game is paramount. 


Players to Watch – New Mexico State Aggies 

Diego Pavia – QB (Jr.) 

In his first year under center for the Aggies, Pavia showed off an ability to do a little bit of everything in Kill and crew’s offense. The transfer from New Mexico Military Institute (who quarterbacked the Broncos to a 2021 NJCAA National Championship) led the Aggies in passing yards (1,450) and finished second in rushing yards (508) while contributing 21 total touchdowns (13 pass, 8 rush) to a 7-6 season and bowl win in 2022. 

He’s started his second year with home-state NMSU strong, tossing eight TDs and four INTs in four games so far and is among the top 15 in passing yards with 918 yards. His legs have continued to pose an issue for opposing defenses, averaging about five yards per carry and racking up almost 200 additional yards on the ground for the Aggies. 

His four interceptions are interesting, after he threw just six picks across 12 games last season. Part of that is an added aggression in the offense this year. Pavia has nearly doubled his yards per game passing from last season while taking some deep shots to a talented cast of skill position players. 

It will be vital for the ‘Bows to contain Pavia’s ability to run around and make something happen on a broken play. Should they be able to keep things in front of themselves defensively, Hawai’i could challenge an otherwise aggressive aerial attack. 

Jonathan Brady – WR (Soph.) 

The Aggies’ version of Ashlock, Brady is one of 20 receivers across the nation in Division I football to compile a pair of 100+ yard receiving games already. Those two performances have come in the past three weeks, sandwiching a –7 yard outing between 102 and 109-yard games.  

Brady lines up mostly inside the numbers in the slot, meaning he could see former high school teammate Elijah Palmer across from him. The pair helped national powerhouse Bishop Gorman to the Nevada state championship in 2021 when Brady was a senior and Palmer was a junior. That is a good thing, as the ‘Bows could use any advantage to stopping the Aggies’ offensive weapon they can get. 

While he can burn you with his speed (his longest reception this season was 80 yards), he is someone who gets a lot of touches. He will get a few carries to run the ball from time to time but is equally dangerous returning the ball as he is lining up at wideout. Expect to see him try to use his speed in the kick return game to try and win the hidden yards for the Aggies. 

He’s also matched his TD output from last season already with three scores in four games. In his true freshman season, the Bishop Gorman-product totaled three TDs in 13 games (9 starts) for New Mexico State. Pavia will look to the 5-foot-11 shifty receiver early and often – he leads the team with 16 targets and 10 receptions – when he is in trouble because of what the pass-catcher can do with the ball. Of his 252 receiving yards this season, 146 have come after the catch. 

It’ll be important for the ‘Bows to slow down the speedster if they want to get back to their winning ways against NMSU. 

Star Thomas – RB (Jr.) 

While much of the conversation in this piece has been regarding the passing attack expected to be on display Saturday in Honolulu, it would be foolish not to mention the Aggies’ leading rusher in Star Thomas after NMSU made it look more like Ruidoso Downs Racetrack than a football game in 2022. 

The Aggies rushed for over 300 yards against Hawai’i last season and had five rushing TDs to boot. Thomas chipped in 144 of those yards and a score himself and has started off his junior season strong by averaging about six yards per carry to the tune of 195 yards rushing and three scores. 

Part of that is due to the offensive line put together for the team, seeing four returners from last season build from where they left off. So far in 2023, the Aggies’ O-line has ranked among the top-10 units nationally by allowing just three tackles for a loss or less each time out. Physical and athletic, the UH defensive line will have their hands full. 

If the ‘Bows want to avoid a repeat of last year and not allow the Aggies to get their first win ever in Honolulu, they will need to key in on shutting down the rushing attack and allow the corners to create turnovers when NMSU becomes too aggressive. If New Mexico State gets the ground game going, it will be a long, frustrating night for the ‘Bows. 


What-2-Watch-4 & Final Thoughts – New Mexico State @ Hawai’i 

Two teams enter this matchup with a similar thought in mind: 

“This one is winnable.” 

After a loaded non-conference schedule for the ‘Bows included three Power 5 opponents, a Group of 5 opponent does not look as daunting on paper. With that said, Hawai’i enters the game below .500 against a team that is starving to get into the positive when it comes to record. It will be no easy feat for either side, meaning little things will decide the outcomes and big moments late – per usual. 

Some keys and quick notes before the ‘Bows host the Aggies to close out the non-conference schedule. 

  • It’s a family reunion! Hawai’i OL/RB Solo Vaipulu and brother A.J., who plays OL for New Mexico State, will get a chance to suit up against each other (kind of). Solo has transitioned from a key cog along the ‘Bows O-line to being a versatile chess piece for Chang to use on offense as an extra blocker or receiver. His brother, A.J., has been a strong piece for that good unit the Aggies have, though the younger Vaipulu has been penalized three times this season. 
  • Going against a team from a similar conference size, can the ‘Bows get their own ground game going? We’ve seen how dangerous Schager can be when he’s in rhythm, slinging it around to the numerous offensive weapons Hawai’i has. Tylan Hines has been banged up to begin the year and has faced some massive defensive lines that clogged up holes quickly. Will an increased bill of health for the backfield help launch the Rainbow Warriors towards the over once again? 
  • Speaking of health, can Hawai’i be semi-whole again? Season-ending injuries aside, UH has dealt with a bevy of injuries to key players for every phase of football. Top CB Cam Stone has missed the last two games and is still working his way back. Hines didn’t play last week versus Oregon. Various others have also managed pain with soft-tissue tweaks in practice. How healthy can Hawai’i get before the weekend? 
  • Win the turnover battle, win the game. This one will likely be high scoring and fun with plenty of splash plays for both sides. Can Hawai’i copy the gameplan from the UAlbany win and create some defensive turnovers while improving the overall turnover margin? Schager will need to take care of the ball and continue the Aggies’ wait for their first pick of 2023. 

After a somewhat shocking loss last season and a tough outing last week, Saturday against New Mexico State can’t come soon enough for the University of Hawai’i football team. For the Aggies, it is a chance for Kill and Co. to show off that this isn’t your grandpappy’s New Mexico State football team. 

The game will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports with kickoff scheduled for 6:05 p.m. HT on Saturday, September 23. The University of Hawai’i at Manoa welcomes back father and son Tom (UH ‘80) and Tuma Tuinei (UH ‘18) to campus for a chance to visit with fans and will honor the duo between the first & second quarter. The Rainbow Wahine basketball team will be honored during the opening quarter for their back-to-back Big West championships and release the 2023-24 schedule. At halftime, NFL Flag Football Hawai’i will hold a five-minute scrimmage between two teams. The Rainbow Wahine tennis team will be honored during the third quarter for their regular-season and tournament titles from last year. 

Gates will open at 3 p.m. for “Kickoff at the Les”, featuring free ice cream in honor of National Ice Cream Cone Day with music from The Vitals. There will also be concessions available for fans, along with an upgraded Keiki Zone for Youth Night and Heineken Beer Garden among other things. 

Reminder that parking passes for lower campus must be purchased in advance for the game.