While there is no official trophy for the contest, Hawaii vs. Fresno State is considered a rivalry game. Why? Maybe some fan hatred, maybe because the teams have played each other every single season since 1992, but mostly because the two have a history of playing some wildly competitive games. Saturday night’s edition at Aloha Stadium didn’t disappoint in that regard.
Hawaii is known for its fast starts, but on this night the Warriors started off cold. Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald’s protection was spotty to start off, and it led to a scoreless first quarter for the typically-vaunted run-and-shoot offense. Fresno State, on the other hand, scored the only points of the opening quarter by fooling the Hawaii defense with a trick play. Bulldogs wide receiver Zane Pope found emerging star freshman wide receiver Jalen Cropper wide open for a touchdown. 7-0 Bulldogs after one quarter.
It was in the second quarter where the Warriors woke up. McDonald capped off a 9-play, 82-yard drive by once again showing off his running prowess on a 6-yard touchdown run to tie up the score. Hawaii would score again late in the second quarter off another long drive to take the lead. Immediately following that drive, Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna fumbled after being hit by Hawaii defensive end Kaimana Padello. Hawaii added a field goal on the scoreboard to give Hawaii a 17-7 lead, but clearly Hawaii preferred a better outcome on that drive after the rare gift provided by the defense.
Fresno State, sensing the game was turning, struck back immediately. Get used to hearing the name Jalen Cropper. The former 4-star recruit is the real deal. Cropper scored from 53-yards out, gliding past the Warrior secondary for a touchdown. Bulldogs closed the gap to three once again.
Cole McDonald decided to provide a gut punch. With exactly one minute left in the first half and needing to travel 69-yards, McDonald would find trusty JoJo Ward on a 48-yard touchdown strike to extend the lead to 24-14. Despite an uneven half, the Warriors were in control at the break.
...but you know the deal. Hawaii never makes things easy on themselves. In the second half, the pendulum would swing to Fresno State.
Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers, the hero from the 2018 Mountain West championship game, would make his name known once again. Rivers owned the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns in route to posting 103 rushing yards, 126 all-purpose on the evening. A field goal was sandwiched in between those touchdowns, and Hawaii’s offense would flounder. Up 24-14 at halftime, the Warriors entered the fourth quarter down 31-24.
Then the weird stuff started to happen. Hawaii’s defense was getting whipped by Fresno State. Reyna constantly evaded pressure to extend drives, and Hawaii could not slow down Ronnie Rivers. A 26-yard strike from Reyna to tight end Jared Rice put Fresno up 38-24. Tension was thick as this rivalry game was getting away from Hawaii.
Cole McDonald led Hawaii down the field, but on 2nd-and-10 missed a wide open Nick Mardner on what appeared to be miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich benched McDonald the next play in favor of Chevan Cordeiro. The drive would not result in points. No star quarterback in America gets yanked quite as often as McDonald does.
Hawaii forced Fresno State to punt, and with 3:54 remaining Hawaii was down 38-24. Game over, right?
That’s where the weird stuff began. Cordeiro moved the ball to midfield, then found Mardner for a 50-yard connection to the three yard line. A few players later, Cordeiro would score himself and Hawaii was still somewhat alive. 38-31 Bulldogs.
On the ensuing kickoff, Fresno State tight end Cam Sutton fumbled the football after attempting to return it. Hawaii freshman linebacker Darius Muasau, an emerging stud for the Warriors, recovered the fumble. The Warriors would receive a scare on the drive when running back Fred Holly III appeared to fumble, but the play was upheld via review. Cordeiro would score on a run from 10-yards out. Magic descending on Halawa. Somehow, someway, the Warriors tied it 38-38.
The magic, however, was short-lived. Hawaii’s defense has been notably brutal as of late, and that unit could not slow down the Fresno State running game. Despite only having 1:08 to work with, the Bulldogs quickly drove down 55-yards to give kicker Cesar Silva a field goal try from 37-yards out. The kick was good and Fresno State won 41-38.
Hawaii drops to 5-4 (2-3), having lost three of their last four games. The West division title is more than likely out of reach due to this loss. Hawaii’s final four games are San Jose State, @ UNLV, San Diego State, and Army. Needing two more wins to achieve bowl eligibility, the Warriors will need to show some toughness in the coming weeks to play in the Hawaii Bowl.
Hawaii plays San Jose State next Saturday at 8:00 p.m. HT on Facebook.