Hawaii football took the field at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex against Portland State Saturday, the culmination of hard work from the UH athletic department. The adversity of the last 8 months prompted Hawaii football to take extreme measures to, well, even play football this fall. When it was clear Aloha Stadium wasn’t going to be an option, fans looked to Las Vegas, Maui, among other ideas. The chosen spot: beefing up the Warriors practice facility. Insane, an on-campus stadium was a pipedream for decades, and Saturday that dream came true, albeit not in ideal circumstances.
COVID protocols in regards to large gatherings meant Hawaii was the only FBS program in the country voluntarily playing in front of no fans Saturday night. The Rainbow Warriors dominated early, and maybe paid for not maintaining that intensity.
Good news: the Hawaii offense was much better on the night, and UCLA’s impressive thumping of LSU suggests the Warriors just ran into a buzzsaw last week.
Bad news: the evening was not without struggles. Portland State does not quit.
Hawaii raced out to a quick lead on the opening drive, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro finding wide receiver Nick Mardner for a 23-yard touchdown. Mardner had a strong evening, finishing with four catches for 97 yards and said touchdown. On the next offensive possession, Calvin Turner Jr. dazzled again, although he would have an uneven evening against the Vikings (we’ll get to that)
On the next drive, Utah transfer defensive tackle Pita Tonga would snag an interception to setup another scoring drive and Hawaii would close the first quarter up 28-0. The rout was on! On a weekend where FCS schools were slaying FBS foes left and right, it seemed Hawaii would cruise. Portland State, however, had other ideas.
Vikings quarterback Davis Alexander found wide receiver Mataio Talalemotu for a 38-yard touchdown to open the second quarter to remove the goose egg from the scoreboard. The blistering scoring pace would come to a stop for much of the quarter, but Chevan Cordeiro’s 4-yard strike to wide receiver Aaron Cephus put Hawaii up 35-7 at halftime.
You’d think Hawaii would run away with the game from there, but the second half proved to be bizarre to say the least.
Portland State’s offense hit the throttle in the second half. The Vikings scored on their opening drive, capped by a 1-yard Malik Walker touchdown. Hawaii, unfazed, retaliated with a 2-yard walk-in touchdown of their own from running Dedrick Parson, who is emerging as a key part of the Hawaii offense. The score was 42-14 Warriors, and then all hell broke loose.
Davis Alexander threw another scoring toss, this time to Beau Kelly from 23-yards out. Portland State has several capable receivers, that was clear Saturday evening.
On the ensuing kickoff, Calvin Turner Jr., who had earlier muffed two punts, both recovered by Hawaii, had a ball go through his legs and recovered in the end zone by the Vikings’ Tyreese Shakir for the cheapest touchdown you’ll ever see. Suddenly, 42-14 turned into 42-28 with the Warrior defense unable to slowdown the Viking offense. Game on in the fourth quarter.
Thankfully, Dae Dae Hunter was uninterested in a close contest. A 59-yard sprint to the house gave Hawaii enough breathing to exhale. Hawaii’s run game was solid, 268 rushing yards in total on the evening. Cordeiro added 305 passing yards, giving Todd Graham the balance he seeks.
Portland State’s offense tacked on another touchdown, bringing the score to 49-35 Hawaii. Goodbye, style points. It wasn’t pretty and far from flawless, but Hawaii defeated Portland State 49-35 on a historic evening that saw the Warriors play a football game at Manoa. The offense finished with 573 total yards, but the defense conceded 477 yards.
It was good to see the offense show some life and diversity of options after last week’s faceplant in Pasadena, but obviously concerning to see the defense get scorched by the Viking’s offense. Portland State is not a bad team and just might annoy Nick Rolovich’s Washington State Cougars this upcoming weekend, but it’s not ideal to see the defense concede such production to an FCS opponent, especially with the high expectations entering the season. Where did that defense that stonewalled Carson Strong and Houston go?
Hawaii will play Oregon State from the Pac-12 next Saturday, September 11th at 5 p.m. HT on FS1.
RIP Robert and Colt