Hawaii football set forth into uncharted territory on Saturday afternoon in Boise, Idaho. Hawaii defeated San Diego State 14-11 two weeks prior at Aloha Stadium, a victory that afforded the Warriors a tiebreaker in conference play, making Hawaii’s 5-3 conference record superior to San Diego State’s 5-3. That set the stage for a return to Boise, the site of one of Hawaii’s few losses in 2019.
Just before the game started, Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich said on the ESPN broadcast that coming to Boise a second time lessened the mystique Boise State’s field, atmosphere, and team had over the Warriors in the previous contest. Early on, that appeared to be the case.
Hawaii started the game strong, forcing Boise State’s offense to go three-and-out on the game’s opening possession. Hawaii then drove the ball downfield, but was forced to settle for three. Nonetheless, the Warriors were leading Boise State for the first time in a long time.
Boise State responded with a 15-play, 58-yard drive that also stalled out. The Broncos tacked on three points, but it was clear Hawaii’s defense was not going to be bullied around this time. Boise State quarterback Jaylon Henderson provided a running threat to the offense, but isn’t the passer freshman Hank Bachmeier is. Hawaii keyed on the run defensively and dared the Broncos to throw, with mixed results.
The next drive is where the talking points were born. Hawaii drove down into Boise State territory. With goal-to-go, Hawaii failed to punch it in from the 2-yard line. Hawaii kicker Ryan Meskell made the field goal, but Nick Rolovich took the points off the board after Boise State was penalized for off-side. 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Rolovich rolled the dice. That’s the thing about gambling: sometimes you lose. Quarterback Cole McDonald kept the ball and was stoned by Boise State linebacker Riley Whimpey. Hawaii took 3 points off the board, gambled for 7 points, but ended up with 0 on the drive.
That said, Boise State’s offense was still stuck at the 1. The Broncos moved out of the shadow of their own goalpost, but still punted. Hawaii was in prime position to cash in. On 2nd-and-1 from the Boise State 36, Hawaii took a shot at the end zone. McDonald’s pass was sniffed out by Boise State safety Kekoa Nawahine and intercepted in the end zone. Another missed opportunity.
That is precisely where the game turned. Boise State marched into Hawaii territory, but the Warriors stopped Boise State to force 4th-and-4 from the Hawaii 36. Now it was Boise State’s turn to gamble. Boise’s roll of the dice was more fruitful. Jaylon Henderson rolled out to his right, and Hawaii safety Kai Kaneshiro briefly hesitated. That was enough for Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir to sneak behind him. Henderson nailed Shakir downfield for a 36-yard touchdown. With 1:07 until halftime, it appeared Hawaii would enter the locker room down 10-3.
Hawaii, true to their form, did not just run out the clock. That backfired as three plays for -8 yards resulted in a quick punt. Starting from the Boise State 43, surely the Broncos could not go 57-yards to score in 0:30? A quick pass into field goal range set up the Broncos for success. From the Hawaii 36, Boise State’s Henderson would find wide receiver John Hightower open on the sideline. A spectacular catch and balance, followed by two missed tackles by Hawaii defenders, allowed Hightower to sprint to the end zone.
Somehow, someway, the Warriors were down 17-3 at halftime.
In the second half, the momentum was clearly with the Broncos. Hawaii, however, found themselves once again goal-to-go on their opening drive of the half. Field goals were not an option. It started pouring rain in the second half, and that clearly effected both teams, but especially Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense. Twice McDonald had an open receiver in the end zone, but running routes, throwing passes, and catching passes were more difficult than usual. Hawaii went for it on 4th-and-goal from the 5, but Boise State sniffed out the play. Once again, Hawaii left a goal-to-go situation with no points.
That sequence was the gut punch. From there, Boise State would continue its running approach with sweeping wide receivers, quarterback runs, and running back George Holani. With 1:09 remaining in the third quarter, the Broncos scored on a reverse to Khalil Shakir to make the score 24-3. Hawaii would score a touchdown after the Broncos expanded their lead to 31-3, but it was all charades at that point. The game was out of reach.
Hawaii did not play its best football. Cole McDonald wasn’t in his usual form. Hawaii’s offensive line was surprisingly dominated in the second half, something that didn’t happen nearly the entire 2019 season. Hawaii’s defense performed admirably, even if Boise State’s offense didn’t have its usual passing threat. Credit Boise State’s defense, Hawaii’s offensive struggles were not completely self-inflicted.
Boise State won the Mountain West finishing 12-1 (8-0). No shame in the Warriors succumbing in this scenario.
Hawaii is still West Division Champions. At 9-5 (5-3), Hawaii awaits its bowl announcement, but it’s highly likely the Warriors face Brigham Young in the Hawaii Bowl.