Despite what was Hawaii’s best performance to date under Timmy Chang, the night ended in heartbreak with the Warriors losing 16-14 to San Diego State at Snapdragon Stadium.
Hawaii entered the bye week coming off an embarrassing blowout loss to New Mexico State, a team the Warriors had never lost to. The team was littered with injuries, and morale was not good.
Two weeks later, the Warriors finally received a break in their favor with a plethora of players returning from injury. Refreshed and with a new offensive approach, the Warriors were ready to give this another shot.
San Diego State entered the game dealing with drama and offered strange solutions to said drama. Last week, the Aztecs had to fire their offensive coordinator after an embarrassing loss to Boise State. They hired former Aztecs QB Ryan Lindley away from Mississippi State midseason. Quarterback Braxton Burmeister supposedly practiced during the week but was unavailable against Hawaii. San Diego State elected to start Jalen Mayden at quarterback. Mayden started his career at quarterback, moved to safety, and now returns to quarterback. Surely the Aztecs will run it 50 times, right?
Nope. Mayden would finish this game 24/36 for 322 passing yards and 1 touchdown pass. No interceptions. College football never ceases to confound. A reserve safety off the bench might legitimately be San Diego State’s best quarterback.
The first half was a snoozer, both rushing attacks were stymied and neither team attempting downfield plays. With 2:10 remaining in the first half and 81 yards to paydirt, Hawaii elected to throw it twice instead of running the clock out. I wasn’t a fan of that choice. San Diego State’s offense made Hawaii pay for that choice, scoring the game’s first points with a field goal. Aztecs led 3-0 at the break.
Both teams opened the second half with fireworks. Jalen Mayden, all jokes aside, throws a nice ball. He found running back Jordan Byrd for a 15-yard touchdown to cap off a 7-play, 65-yard drive. Aztecs pushed the lead to 10-0, and frankly that gap already seemed insurmountable for the Warriors the way the offense had been playing.
In an unexpected plot twist, Hawaii’s passing game broke out on the next drive! Quarterback Brayden Schager found Zion Bowens, fresh off his return from injury, for a 66-yard touchdown. Just like that, the deficit was back to 3.
Schager Bowens!!!!!#BRADDAHHOOD— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) October 9, 2022
However, Hawaii’s offense would go dormant for the rest of the third and much of the fourth quarter. San Diego State’s offense controlled the clock with nearly 20 minutes time of possession. The Aztecs added a field goal to lead 13-7 in the early fourth quarter. Down 6 and time getting away from the Warriors, another punt meant the Aztecs again had an opportunity to ice the game.
Mayden found wide receiver Tyrell Shavers for a 42-yard gain to the Hawaii 13-yard line. On the replay, it appeared as if Shavers did not complete the catch. SDSU rushed to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball, negating any chance for review. Brutal sequence for Hawaii. The Aztecs, however, would miss the chip shot field goal! As legendary former Hawaii broadcaster Jim Leahey would say, that is athletic justice.
Hawaii’s offense still needed to travel 80-yards to score a touchdown, field goals will not suffice. Brayden Schager delivered key strikes to Koali Nishigaya and Jalen Walthall for first downs. The sophomore quarterback from Texas is slowly improving. Hawaii marched into Aztec territory.
With 1:19 remaining on the clock, running back Dedrick Parson scored from 22-yards out. Hawaii entered the game a 23.5-point underdog yet found themselves a minute away from a shocking upset victory.
DEDRICK! DEDRICK! DEDRICK! TOUCHDOWN!!!— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) October 9, 2022
On the ensuing kickoff, kicker Kyler Halvorsen kicked the ball out-of-bounds, giving the Aztecs the ball at the SDSU 35. I don’t know if Halvorsen was instructed to kick towards the sideline, or just shanked it, but this was a brutal start to keeping the Aztecs out of field goal range.
It’s a strange phenomenon, how defenses can halt an attacking offense for hours, but suddenly look rudderless in a preventive shell in 2-minute drills. Jalen Mayden dinked and dunked down the field in methodical fashion, putting the Aztecs at the Hawaii 28-yard line with 0:47 left in the game. That quickly, San Diego State was in field goal range. Aztec kicker Jack Browning made his kick from 26-yards out, San Diego State defeated Hawaii 16-14. Absolute heartbreak for Hawaii.
This loss stings, and on the heels of so much frustration this season, nobody wants a moral victory. That said, Hawaii looked much improved on offense with several wide receivers returning from injury and Shager taking a step forward. Keep in mind, San Diego State has several future NFL players on that defense. Saturday evening was a step in the right direction for this team.
Hawaii hosts Nevada next Saturday at 6 pm HT on Spectrum Sports.