Hawaii football head coach Todd Graham’s Rainbow Warriors flew into El Paso, Texas via the Oahu to Los Angeles route, and then drove up to Las Cruces to take on the New Mexico State Aggies on their homecoming day. No mainland opposition can be taken for granted by the Warriors, and Hawaii did not fall into that trap Saturday, winning 41-21 on a rainy, windy Saturday night in Las Cruces.
The Aggies received a boost against the Warriors with the return of starting quarterback Jonah Johnson, who missed the previous two games with injury. Johnson’s influence was felt immediately, driving the opening kickoff into Hawaii’s red zone, but settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Hawaii was not as methodical on their drive, opting to instead score right away.! Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro found wide receiver Nick Mardner for a 74-yard touchdown to give Hawaii its first lead of the game. The Aggies went three-and-out on the following drive, and Hawaii capitalized by tacking on a Matthew Shipley field goal. Hawaii led 10-3 after one quarter.
Then things got weird. After both teams traded drives that resulted in punts, New Mexico State’s Jonah Johnson threw a pass into the flats that was batted backwards by Hawaii linebacker Quentin Frazier, and cornerback Cameron Lockridge picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown. It was unclear if the ball was thrown forward or backward, so the call on the field stood. Big break for the Warriors, going up 17-3 after the sequence.
That sharp swing might’ve left some viewers wondering if Hawaii was about to run away with this contest, but the Aggies responded with a 5-play, 71-yard touchdown drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jonah Johnson to Robert Downs III. The Warriors still led 17-10, but then running back Dae Dae Hunter fumbled on the next drive, giving the ball to the Aggies at the Hawaii 32-yard line. Ouch. Fortunately for Hunter and the Warriors, a goal-line stand left the Aggies settling for a very short field goal. In hindsight, a questionable decision by NMSU.
On the next drive, Chevan Cordeiro and Calvin Turner Jr. ran all over the turf into Aggie territory, but to no avail after Cordeiro was intercepted in the red zone. The Aggies, however, failed to take advantage of the turnover after a 14-play, 61-yard drive ended with a missed field goal. An eventful first half, the Warriors led 17-13 at half.
To start the third quarter, the action slowed some with both offenses trading punts. Midway through the quarter, Hawaii’s defense changed the game. Nickelback Khoury Bethley volleyball spiked the football out of Jonah Johnson’s hand, forcing the fumble and recovering it!
That sequence turned the game in the Warriors’ favor. Plays later, Cordeiro scored from 1-yard out to give the Warriors a 24-13 lead in the third quarter.
The Aggies’ following drive resulted in a punt. Hawaii took over the ball as the game transitioned to the fourth quarter, and then the Warriors put in the closer: Calvin Turner Jr. You can always count on #7 to put on a show, but apparently you cannot count on the play-by-play guy to sound excited.
That touchdown put the result out of reach, but the Aggies didn’t quit as the rain and wind picked up in the fourth quarter. A 10-play, 85-yard drive finished with a 3-yard touchdown from Jonah Johnson, who was efficiently annoying on the evening, frequently making solid throws just as the pressure was about to collapse on him.
Hawaii’s next drive resulted in a Matthew Shipley field goal, making the score 34-21. Again, New Mexico State didn’t quit, but a 12-play drive concluded with the Aggies failing to convert on 4th-and-32. From there, the Warriors running attack wore the Aggies down. Hawaii beat New Mexico State 41-21.
Bo Graham’s offense achieved the balance they desire, 277 passing yards and 215 rushing yards. Chevan Cordeiro now ranks 4th-nationally in passing yards (1,410). The defense left something to be desired at times, but it’s worth noting that the Aggies are a better team than what they’ve showed to this point when quarterback Jonah Johnson is available. Ultimately, the Warriors won on the mainland on a complicated trip, and covered the spread. Some internet fans might’ve wanted a 40+ point margin type victory, but it’s hard to complain about this win.
Hawaii moves to 2-3 (0-1) on the season. The Warriors will host 18th-ranked Fresno State next weekend. The Bulldogs opened as an 11-point favorite on Sunday. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Hawaii hasn’t beaten Fresno State on Oahu since 2007.