It has finally happened. After six consecutive seasons of Fresno State and San Diego State winning the West Division of the Mountain West, there is finally a new champion: the 2019 Hawaii Warriors. After losing to Fresno State at home and sitting on three conference losses, it appeared Hawaii’s division title hopes were all but lost. All but lost. Hawaii needed a series of unlikely events to occur, but those unlikely results did occur. Fresno State losing to Utah State at home. San Diego State losing to NEVADA at home. It all set up one game. One crucial game.
Hawaii defeated San Diego State on Saturday evening, but it needed to wear a different hat to pull it off.
After San Diego State failed to score on their opening drive, the Warriors gave the Aztecs a dose of their own medicine. A 15-play, 92-yard drive that killed 8:30 of game time off the clock resulted in a touchdown from quarterback Cole McDonald to wide receiver Jason-Matthew Sharsh. Up 7-0, the ugliness of a typical contest against San Diego State began to set in.
The two teams traded punts and ugly drives until Hawaii began to drive late in the second quarter, but a pass that deflected off of Hawaii wide receiver Cedric Byrd’s hands fell into San Diego State’s Luq Barcoo’s hands. The Aztecs would cash that turnover into a field goal right before halftime. The score 7-3 in the Warriors’ favor, it was clear the high-flying offense the Warriors typically sport was being shelved for a more cautious approach.
To start the second half, the two teams traded punts. On Hawaii’s drive, McDonald missed a wide open JoJo Ward deep and then another pass to force 4th-down. Next drive out, a season-long theme added another edition to the saga: Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich benched McDonald in favor of Chevan Cordeiro. Cordeiro would lead the offense on a 14-play, 96-yard drive that killed 7:12 of game clock. Up 14-3, it appeared as if the anemic Aztecs offense had a mountain to climb.
As is typical with Hawaii, things rarely come easy. The Aztecs countered with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that dried 7:17 of the clock up, somewhat counterproductive. The Aztecs scored on a five-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ryan Agnew on 4th-down. The Aztecs attempted and converted a two-point conversion to make the score 14-11 with 12:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.
At this point, it was evident Hawaii had no intentions of running the run-and-shoot with the intention of passing. The goal was to kill clock and force the poor Aztecs offense to travel the field. Well, with 1:23 left in the game and 81 yards goal to go, that’s precisely what happened. San Diego State drove the ball down field and gave kicker Matt Araiza a chance to send it to overtime.
Araiza missed the first kick, but Nick Rolovich called a timeout prior to the kick. Oof. Fortunately for Rolovich, Araiza missed again! Hawaii defeated San Diego State 14-11 and won the West Division.
The Warriors will travel to Boise, Idaho again for the Mountain West Championship game, having lost to the Broncos 59-37 back in October. First, however, the Warriors must play Army in the not-perfectly-timed out-of-conference game and regular season finale.