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Hawaii defense’s standout performance not enough in 17-13 loss to San Jose State

The Dick Tomey Legacy Trophy is going home with San Jose State

SJSU v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Hawaii football hosted San Jose State at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex for a nationally-televised football game that many expected to be a potential shootout. The Hawaii band was in attendance, but otherwise the stadium was eerily empty and quiet. To be fair, the pair of offenses on the field didn’t give a would-be crowd much to cheer about.

Saturday evening, the Hawaii defense finally showed up and impressed, but the Warriors couldn’t capitalize on offense despite the stat sheet flattering the Rainbow Warriors.

The game started with a punt fest that frankly persisted all night. After three straight drives concluded with a punt, Hawaii’s consistent rushing attack led to a 1-yard touchdown run from Calvin Turner Jr. to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead with 3:29 remaining in the first quarter.

The following six drives in the second quarter concluded with punts, most of them in three-and-out fashion. Both defenses frequently opted to rush three defensive linemen while dropping eight players into coverage, and frankly neither San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel or Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro really totally figured out how to puncture this pass preventive approach.

Starkel, however, orchestrated what would essentially be the winning drives of the football game to close the second half. A 13-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Hamilton tied the game at 7-7 with 5:26 remaining in the half. Hawaii followed up with another three-and-out, giving the Spartans decent field position. Starkel’s 46-yard strike to Dominick Mazotti set up the Spartans at the Hawaii 1-yard line, and a 1-yard pass to Jermaine Braddock gave the Spartans a 14-7 lead, just like that. In a little over 5 minutes, a valiant defensive effort from the Warriors was all for naught.

Before halftime, the Warriors went three-and-out again, giving the Spartans further opportunity to balloon this Warrior collapse. Thankfully, on 3rd-and-15 safety Eugene Ford forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Derek Thomas. The much-needed momentum swing did not yield points as kicker Matthew Shipley missed from 48-yards out.

The second half featured more punts. Once again, the two teams opened the half with three consecutive punts. The streak was severed by a Kai Kaneshiro interception. The Warriors defense performed admirably, especially after being gashed by UCLA, Portland State, and Oregon State, the Warriors held the Spartans to 291 total yards, and only 56 yards on the ground.

Yes, it’s true, running back Tyler Nevens, tight end Derek Deese Jr., among others were out injured for the Spartans, but the Warriors couldn’t defend air in recent weeks so this was a positive development.

Cordeiro took advantage of the Kaneshiro interception, finding running back Dae Dae Hunter for a 30-yard gain. Unfortunately, the Warriors stalled in the red zone and settled for a field goal.

San Jose State went three-and-out on the following drive and punted. Two years ago, the Spartans and Warriors punted zero times at Aloha Stadium in the 2019 matchup Hawaii won 42-40. Fast-forward to Saturday night, the two teams combined for an outrageous 22 punts. So much for the shootout.

Down 14-10 with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter, Cordeiro and Calvin Turner Jr. ushered the Warriors into Spartan territory, but once again stalled in the red zone. Hawaii’s offense had a total of 369 yards, 242 passing and 127 rushing. It’s not like the Warriors were totally dominated, but the insane amount of three-and-outs and punting were the straws that broke the camel’s back. Matthew Shipley made a 23-yard field goal to bring the score to 14-13 Spartans.

...and then the punt fest resumed. Seven consecutive drives ending in a punt was finally put to an end, but not the way Hawaii fans would’ve liked. The Warriors, down 14-13 with 4:42 remaining in the game, Hawaii had 80 yards of field to muster through. That goal was dead on arrival when Cordeiro found wide receiver Jared Smart for a 7-yard gain, but Smart fumbled the ball and it was recovered by San Jose State’s Rico Tolefree.

The Spartans wisely killed 3:13 of clock, but Hawaii did manage to hold the Spartans to a field goal. Again, the Hawaii Rainbow Warrior defense was more than up for the challenge Saturday evening. This loss feels like a missed opportunity.

Calvin Turner Jr. returned the kickoff to the Hawaii 36. Several plays later on 2nd-and-10, Chevan Cordeiro found wide receiver Nick Mardner for a 15-yard gain to the San Jose State 33. Mardner was visibly shaken up, but Hawaii had no timeouts and was working against the clock. Cordeiro seemingly had Mardner wide open down the left sideline, but Mardner was clearly injured. The incomplete pass meant the Warriors had 0:01 to work with, and there was no Manoa magic on the final play. The Spartans hung to beat Hawaii 17-13 in front a national audience that was very tired by the time this game concluded around 4 a.m. EST.

This loss is a gut punch to the Warriors. With a schedule seemingly growing in difficulty every week, the Warriors had plenty opportunity to win this game and will rue not capitalizing on a stellar defensive performance. One of these weeks, the offense and defense will play well at the same time, but it wasn’t Saturday night.

The Warriors will travel to Las Cruces, New Mexico to play the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday September 25th at 2 p.m. HT.