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Slow start, rough finish dooms ‘Bows in offensive slugfest versus SDSU
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 15, 2023
HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-5, 0-2 MWC) fell to the San Diego State Aztecs (3-4, 1-2 MWC) on Saturday night, 41-34. Another slow start came back to bite the ‘Bows late, as they allowed the first 17 points of the contest before getting on the board.
Hawai’i lost four turnovers and had a punt blocked deep in their own territory, neutralizing a career-game from QB Brayden Schager as the ‘Bows ran out of time and fell at home to conference-foe San Diego State for the 10th time in 12 meetings since UH joined the Mountain West.
The Rainbow Warriors received the opening kickoff after SDSU won the coin toss and deferred, quickly going 3-and-out and setting up to punt the ball away when the Aztecs came crashing through the protection and blocked Matthew Shipley’s punt to set San Diego State up inside the Hawai’i 20-yard line for their first possession of the day.
The ‘Bows defense, tasked with a tough challenge from the outset, held strong to keep the Aztecs’ offense to just three plays and three points — settling for a 22-yard field goal from SDSU senior kicker Jack Browning to make it 3-0 after three minutes of game action. Hawai’i’s beginning-of-game offensive struggles continued with three-and-outs on the next two drives (though they were not helped by field position on the 2nd drive, starting at their own 8-yard line).
San Diego State extended the lead to 10-0 on the next possession, starting inside Hawai’i territory and working their way down the field in six plays to score on a Lucky Sutton 1-yard run up the gut with 4:16 left in the first quarter. The ‘Bows finally grabbed a first down on the next drive, though the offense couldn’t get much more working.
UH’s defense attempted to give the offense a spark as safety Peter Manuma produced his first interception of the season to open the second quarter, but SDSU’s defense answered with an interception of their own — a 70-yard pick-six of Schager — to open up a 17-0 lead with 12:19 left in the 2nd quarter.
Things continued to look bad for the ‘Bows to start the next drive began from their own 9-yard line following a penalty on the kickoff, but the offense began to find legs as the run found life to boost the aerial attack. Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei scampered for an 11-yard gain on the first play and for 24 yards on the drive to add some extra space for Schager to work with. Aided with extra time, Schager dropped a pass in the bucket for a 17-yard TD to Pofele Ashlock and cutting the Aztecs’ lead to 10. It was the first time Ashlock got in the end zone since September 1 against Stanford.
The ‘Bows defense forced a three-and-out following the touchdown, but a muffed punt allowed the Aztecs to recover inside Hawai’i territory without sending their own defense back onto the field. Once again, the Rainbow Warriors’ defense bent but did not break AND were rewarded for their efforts this time. After forcing the SDSU drive to stall at the 33-yard line, Aztecs’ kicker Jack Browning’s 51-yard FG attempt went wide-left and kept the score at 17-7.
Hawai’i played complementary football quickly after as Schager connected with Steven McBride for 62 yards to set the ‘Bows up at the SDSU 5 and hit 6-foot-5 receiver Alex Perry with a jump ball for a TD two plays later to make it a one-score game with 90 seconds left in the first half.
The ‘Bows defense got one more stop on the next drive, allowing Timmy Chang to dial up some deep ball attempts that ended up falling to the turf to close the opening 30 minutes of play as Hawai’i entered the locker room down by three, 17-14.
SDSU was stonewalled by the Hawai’i defense once again to kick things off in the second half, forcing a punt after four plays and only one first down before Browning pinned the ‘Bows back at their own 7 for their first drive of the third quarter. UH’s offense would go 64 yards in 10 plays on the drive, knotting the score at 17 apiece at the 8:34 mark of the third period.
CFB | 8:34 3Q |— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) October 15, 2023
San Diego St - 17
Hawai’i - 17
We’ve got a tie ball game, folks! Matthew Shipley crushes a 46-yard FG thru the uprights to knot this at 17.
Even better, a pair of students just won a year’s supply of @raisingcanes right after.@HIsportsradio @SportingTrib
The Aztecs responded with points of their own after a long drive, going 68 yards across 13 plays before getting stopped inside the Hawai’i 10 and settling for a 24-yard field goal to re-take the lead, 20-17, with less than a minute to play in the quarter.
Schager and company worked quickly once again as time in the third quarter wound down. It was Schager delivering another beautiful throw, this time to WR Nick Cenacle who galloped by two SDSU defenders as the quarter clock expired to give the ‘Bows their first lead of the night, 24-20.
San Diego State answered back with a quick strike of their own three plays later, as Jalen Mayden found a wide-open Mekhi Shaw for a 69-yard TD reception to jump back ahead, 27-24. The Aztecs found pay dirt again 66 seconds later after an Ashlock fumble was recovered by SDSU inside the Hawai’i 25-yard line and Lucky Sutton ran it in from two yards out to extend the lead to 10 with 12:27 left in regulation.
The ‘Bows would not go quietly though despite the critical mistakes that had happened to that point. Needing just three plays of their own, Hawai’i went 75 yards to bring it within three once again as Schager connected with McBride for UH’s longest play from scrimmage this season (a 65-yard reception) and RB Landon Sims punched it in from two yards out for the sophomore’s first career rushing touchdown.
Needing a stop, Hawai’i’s defense strapped up the boots once again and got exactly that. The ‘Bows forced a turnover-on-downs after SDSU went for it on a 4th-and-1 from the Hawai’i 21-yard line and came up short with 5:39 remaining in the fourth. The ‘Bows would fumble the chance again though.
The Aztecs’ defense was able to pry the ball loose from Sims on a second down run and recovered it, bringing UH’s defense right back out onto the field in the same spot it had gotten a much-needed stop just 32 seconds beforehand. San Diego State would soak up nearly three minutes of game action afterwards, all but icing the game with 2:11 left with a Jaylon Armstead rushing touchdown making it 41-31.
Hawai’i quickly worked to the SDSU 30 and elected to kick a 47-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining and all three timeouts in hand, understanding that two possessions would be needed no matter what with a score.
The ensuing onside kick attempt was recovered by the Aztecs and UH was unable to get one last stop, allowing SDSU to pick up a first down and kneel out the remainder of the clock to drop Hawai’i to 2-5 overall on the season and 0-2 in Mountain West play.
San Diego State’s Mayden finished the day with 221 yards through the air and another 53 yards on the ground to tie for the team rushing lead, tossing one TD and one INT in the win for the Aztecs. RB Cam Davis tallied 53 rushing yards across 10 carries as well for SDSU, who had three of their TDs come from the ground. Mekhi Shaw led the Aztecs pass-catchers with six receptions for 126 yards and a score.
Brayden Schager had a career-best 427 yards passing, going 29-for-47 with three TD tosses and an interception for Hawai’i. The ‘Bows offensive line had a powerful performance, surrendering just one sack all night and providing time for their junior signal caller to work. Saturday was the 16th consecutive game that Schager had thrown a TD pass, continuing to mesh with the explosive weapons at his disposal.
Speaking of those weapons, Steven McBride finished with 157 yards receiving on five catches just two weeks after posting a career-best 180 yards at UNLV. Ashlock had the largest target share with 13, hauling in eight catches for 68 yards and a TD. Nick Cenacle posted a career-high 100 yards receiving while scoring his first college TD in the loss for the ‘Bows.
Hawai’i outgained the SDSU offense, 480 yards to 378 yards, but lost the turnover battle once again with four giveaways and just one takeaway (while allowing a blocked punt deep in their own territory). San Diego State scored 21 of their 41 points off Hawai’i turnovers. The UH offensive line allowed a season-low one sack against SDSU just two weeks after giving up a season-high six sacks at UNLV.
The ‘Bows now hit the road for a Mountain West bout against New Mexico, who fell 52-24 at home to San Jose State this past weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for noon HT and will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV. New Mexico opens as two-point favorites ahead of next week’s matchup.
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