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About that Hawaii Bowl berth: Hawaii Stuns San Diego State in 31-30 Overtime Thriller

Cole McDonald shines as head coach Nick Rolovich gets his signature win

NCAA Football: Hawaii at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

After the whistle blew in Fresno, California, it was official: with the Bulldogs winning the West Division, San Diego State had little to play for but pride on Senior Night. Or so we thought. On Monday, San Diego State athletic director John David Wicker was quoted saying, “The league always wants Hawaii (in the Hawaii Bowl) and ESPN wants Hawaii there for ticket sales. But if it came down to it and there was no other bowl slot, I would fight to say we beat Hawaii and we finished ahead of them. We should be in Hawaii ahead of them, or Boise or Fresno or whoever.”

This ruffled some feathers on Oahu. Hawaii’s head coach took note of it while dealing with flight issues.

Hawaii already secured bowl eligibility last week vs. UNLV. Despite that, it appeared Hawaii had a bit of an edge to them on the night. Cole McDonald got the start for Hawaii amidst a week of speculation as to whether he or freshman quarterback Chevan Cordeiro would play. The game started off positively for the Warriors, getting out to a quick 3-0 lead. San Diego State was having none of it, as quarterback Christian Chapman found wide receiver Fred Trevillion for a 76-yard touchdown pass not even 20 seconds after Hawaii scored. The Aztecs would quickly retrieve the football after a failed drive from Hawaii, and the Aztecs capitalized off of a 5-yard touchdown run from Aztec running back Juwan Washington. At 14-3 after one quarter, the Aztecs appeared well on their way to covering the 17-point spread.

The second quarter, however, belonged exclusively to the Warriors. A 2-yard touchdown pass from Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald to running back Elijah Dale closed the gap to 14-10 Aztecs. San Diego State has been prone to cold spells on offense this season, and that occurred once again in the second quarter of this contest. Hawaii would take advantage of this, scoring on two more drives, both touchdowns. McDonald would score on a 1-yard keeper with 5:11 on the clock, and then threw a touchdown to wide receiver Cedric Byrd with 1:19 remaining in the half. Shocked, the Aztecs would trail 14-24 at halftime.

The second half, however, was mostly owned by the Aztecs. Whatever adjustments Rocky Long made at halftime, they worked perfectly. Hawaii would not score a single point in the second half. San Diego State scored on a 53-yard field goal from John Baron II in the third quarter, and tie the game on a Isaac Lessard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Lessard is a fullback! At 24-24 with the ball back, San Diego State marched to set up a 32-yard field goal attempt for kicker John Baron II. It appeared to be a chip shot for a kicker of Baron II’s caliber, but he shockingly missed it right. The two teams tied at the end of regulation, would go to overtime.

San Diego State elected to play defense to start overtime. It was a flag-filled possession for Hawaii that ultimately ended to Cole McDonald finding wide receiver JoJo Ward in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown catch. The celebration didn’t last long, as San Diego State scored on their first play via a 25-yard touchdown run by Juwan Washington. Headed for double overtime, right?

Rocky Long is no stranger to attempting to win in overtime via the two-point conversion. The Aztecs lined up in a funky formation, but Hawaii called timeout to reassess their tactics. The Aztecs didn’t blink and came back out for the two-point attempt, but opted to throw a fade in the left corner of the end zone that sailed out of bounds. The gamble failed and Hawaii would shock 17-point favorite San Diego State for their first win in San Diego in decades. In a season that started with very low expectations, Hawaii would finish the regular season 8-5 (5-3).

UP NEXT: Hawaii will play in a bowl game, presumably the Hawaii Bowl vs. a C-USA opponent. We’ll have more coverage on that this month.