In a game full of mistakes, CSU (2 - 6, 1 - 3) took advantage of Hawai'i's (1 - 6, 0 - 4) mistakes late, when it looked like the Warriors were about to pass the Rams up. In a game with 5 interceptions (Schroeder, Hawai'i - 3; Smith, CSU - 2) and the same number of fumbles lost (CSU 3, Chris Nwoke - 2 and Tommey Morris -1), many in the fourth quarter, the CSU Rams got two pick - 6's to preserve what had been a 14 lead that had shrunk to only 1 point in the third quarter.
Up by two touchdowns, 28 - 14, and looking to take control of the game, the Rams rookie coach put his big gambling hat on and decided to try a trick play. The Rams attempted an onside kick to try and bury the Warriors. Hawai'i was not fooled and took the poorly executed kick inside the Rams' 5 yard line. This type of sophomrish play calling has become a hallmark of McElwain's first year. From deciding to go for it on the Rams' side of the field against the Buffs in the first game (and failing - due to obvious play calling), to deciding routinely to go for two after a score had given the Rams a small bit of momentum and failing (helping to stamp out any momentum gained), to this ill-conceived on-side kick, the Rams' coach has made some head scratching calls that the stands have absolutely bemoaned. In a game of inches, in which field position plays such a big role, these calls have been ill-timed, ill-positioned or simply bad ideas. The momentum of the game immediately switched from the Rams up by two touchdown and playing decent defense, to a third quarter dominated by the Warrior offense. The Rams' defense, however, stepped up and despite being given a short field to defend on three separate drives, thanks to Rams' fumbles and interceptions, the Warriors got only 13 total points (due to a missed field goal) and a touchdown off of the on-sides kick play.
The CSU freshman quarterback Conner Smith had been given a free hand early and seemed to do well, throwing a touchdown to Chris Nwoke and managing the game well for the most part. However, after throwing a pick the Rams' coordinators held him back and there were no offensive touchdowns in the second half. The Warriors capitalized and seemed poised to go ahead as the Rams either fumbled or went 3 and out on consecutive drives. Down by only one point, 28 - 27, the Rams' defense came up with two scores off of interceptions to seal the game. By luck or by design, the Rams defense got the win. The temperature at the game was almost pleasant at the beginning of the game, but by the fourth quarter had dropped close to freezing, which didn't seem to help the Warriors' efforts. Norm Chow looked poised but also had the look of frustration on his face at times as both he and McElwain had been left with less talent than many had speculated.
Hawai'i led in first downs 25 - 16, total yards of 393 - 291, 3rd down conversions with 8 - 21 / 1 - 6, fourth down conversions with 1 - 3 / 0 - 0 and time of possession with 36:06 to 23:54 and at times dominated, but lacked the punch to follow through. Both teams had 5 turnovers. Both RB's Iosefa (106) and Nwoke (115) had over 100 yards rushing. The leading receivers were Lister and Ostrowski, with 58 and 48 yards respectively, for the Warriors and Lovett and Nwoke, with 33 and 27 yards respectively for the Rams. Hawai'i also blocked a Pete Kontodiakos punt but were unable to fully capitalize on the opportunity, getting only a field goal from the great field position. The third offensive touchdown was scored on a 5 yard run by Senior James Skelton, who usually plays linebacker for the Rams, but with the emergence of freshman Cory James has seen less playing time at the position.
While this game will have little if any effect on the standings at the top of the Mountain West Conference, it was as entertaining as it was frustrating. Hawai'i fans were on the edges of their seats as the Rams failed with the on-side kick and preceded to fumble away any advantage they had had. The Rams were then ecstatic when freshman DB DeAndre Elliott returned a Sean Schroeder pass 76 yards for a touchdown and then freshman CB James Oden returned another Schroeder pass 40 yards for a score. In fairness, Hawai'i had every chance in the second half to take the game away from the lamed CSU offense. The CSU defense, which was unable to stop the Warriors on the first two drives, came up big to preserve the win, after it had been left on the field too long by the sputtering Rams' offense... again. CSU won the battle of the basement, but fans will be lft to decide if it was more by luck or more by design and what that means for the upcoming games for both teams.