One of the joys of college football is its unique unpredictability. Yes, yes. Clemson and Alabama are favorites to win the national championship, but week-to-week college football yields shocking results, so much so that it’s unusual when it doesn’t happen on a fall Saturday.
Arizona arrived at Aloha Stadium an 11-point favorite, and about 45 minutes late. The Dick Tomey memorial bowl had the possibility of being a shootout, and neither team disappointed. That said, the 45-38 final score was not arrived at without a healthy dose of bizarre play.
The night started off the same way Hawaii did early on last season: very, very fast. Well, first Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald threw an interception into double coverage (that would be a developing theme). Then he tossed a touchdown pass (also a theme) to slotback Cedric Byrd. After the Hawaii defense booted the vaunted Khalil Tate/J.J. Taylor offense from the field, McDonald would hit wide receiver JoJo Ward beautifully in stride for a 39-yard score. In the blink of an eye, Hawaii led the Arizona Wildcats 14-0 after one quarter and the upset alert was on.
After being completely stymied by a typically poor Hawaii defense in the first quarter, Khalil Tate and company would eventually respond as a tit-for-tat second quarter would unfold, the two offenses trading touchdown blows. Hawaii would lead 28-21 at the break, miraculously despite three first half interceptions from Cole McDonald, who was otherwise stellar (yes I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true).
Cole McDonald is the first QB to have 3 TDs and 3 INTs in the same half since Marshall's Rakeem Cato in 2014.— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) August 25, 2019
Hawaii started off the second half with a touchdown drive capped off by a Dayton Furuta three-yard rumble and bumble into the end zone. After forcing the Arizona offense off the field again, Hawaii appeared to be on the cusp of blowing this one open. Then the turnovers happened. First Dayton Furuta coughed up the ball. The Rainbow Warrior defense held AGAIN, then Fred Holly III fumbled too. This time Arizona would not trip all over themselves and would cash in for a touchdown from J.J. Taylor, who did not have the monstrous night many expected. (14 carries, 67 rushing yards, 1 touchdown).
Cole McDonald on the ensuing drive would throw an ugly fourth interception, and that was followed by a familiar but still baffling decision from head coach Nick Rolovich: McDonald was benched in favor of Chevan Cordeiro.
You know how the rest of this goes. Comeback Cordeiro would steadily lead Hawaii to a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, first leading a drive that resulted in a field goal. Then, after another defensive stop by a Hawaii defense that played better than the stats indicate, Cordeiro nailed star wide receiver Cedric Byrd in the end zone for a gorgeous 30-yard touchdown. Byrd would finish with 14 catches, 224 yards, and 4 touchdowns. God help anyone playing against someone who has Byrd in fantasy football.
In case you were wondering, Cedric Byrd is the first wide receiver in the FBS to record four touchdown catches in the opening game of the season in over 20 years. #HawaiiFB #FunFact pic.twitter.com/0qJa3ajUqU— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) August 25, 2019
With a 10-point lead with five minutes left in the game, surely Hawaii ices this game away with little drama?
Nope. First, the field goal debacle. Arizona had THREE penalties back up what was supposed to be a 38-yard field goal attempt. Instead, poor Arizona kicker Lucas Havrisik had to attempt from 53-yards. Havrisik would make the field goal. 45-38 Warriors.
Hawaii would do their best to milk the clock, but Arizona would magically still have a shot with about 50 seconds left. After moving the ball down to the Hawaii 30-yard line, the Wildcats had maybe two chances left before the clock expired if they were quick. Khalil Tate had other ideas. If you don’t know who Hawaii defensive end Manly Williams is, you will now.
The defensive lineman channeled his inner Warrior, chasing down Tate from about 35-40 yards out and saving Hawaii from having to fend off the Wildcats in overtime. The Warriors defeat the Pac-12 Wildcats 45-38, earning their first win over a Power 5 team since 2015 (Colorado) and making a statement that this team will not fold easily. They’ll be weird and inconsistent in all facets, but what else would you expect from the Manoa Maniacs? Run-and-shoot era Hawaii football is back.
Hawaii will play Oregon State in two weeks, inexplicably on Facebook.