Closing out the regular season with not much to play for would seem not to create much tension and angst, but the rivalry between San Jose State (7-4, 5-3 MW) and Hawaii (3-10, 2-6 MW) was chippy as expected.
With the Dick Tomey Trophy the only tangible thing left, the Spartans finally put their foot down to stop a two-game losing slide by throttling the Rainbow Warriors 27-14 Saturday afternoon at CEFCU Stadium in front of 15,012.
The overused and tired expression “tale of two halves” could be upgraded to tale of two quarters (x2) for San Jose State to storyline the game.
The Cordeiro Cooks’ train
On the second series of the game, Spartan QB Chevan Cordeiro found SJS’ top receiver Elijah Cooks for a four-yard touchdown reception off an eight-play, 59-yard drive for a 7-0 Spartan lead.
SJS’ offense went dormant after that until the last drive of the half where Cordeiro found his release valve again in Cooks for a seven-yard TD catch (Cooks 10th of the year) for a 14-6 lead over the ‘Bows.
Cooks’ two touchdown day came on 10 receptions and 121 yards receiving highlighted by more acrobatic catches.
“Chev and I don’t practice those one-handed catches. Coach Brennan doesn’t like those kind of catches at practice,” said Cooks. “Chev knows my catch radius allows me to go get the ball and he would tell me certain passes were thrown out-of-bounds where only I can catch it.”
As a senior just shy of a 1,000 yard receiving season, Cooks came to terms with the finality of his last regular season game after injury-plagued seasons at Nevada before transferring to San Jose.
“The past two years have been rough for me and to be able to finish out the season is amazing,” said Cooks. “I’m happy to have finished out with these guys who’ve become brothers to me.”
In between the Spartan offense stalling out, Hawaii did find life off a tipped-ball interception off Spartan receiver Justin Lockhart to ‘Bow cornerback Virdel Edwards, but Hawaii could only manage a field goal and some extracurricular group smack talking in Cordeiro’s face.
“I’ve been there for four years at Hawaii,” said Cordeiro on Hawaii players trying to rattle him. “They’re still my brothers and some of them I’m still close to.”
“Yeah, during the game, of course, they were talking, but after it was all fun and games, hugging and it was really good to see them,” added Cordeiro.
After Hawaii found their legs and mustered one more field goal, the Spartan defense did its bend-don’t-break-routine in the second quarter to keep the lead at 14-6.
Half time charge up
San Jose State employed wrecking ball running back Kairee Robinson to start the second half with Cordeiro leading a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped off by Robinson’s one-yard TD run; his 10th rushing touchdown of the year. And a 21-6 lead for SJS.
Robinson’s career game high 148-yards rushing on 24 rushes was a welcome offensive counterbalance to Cordiero going 17-26, 208 yards passing and two TD throws (1 INT). Robinson’s efforts helped throttle down any Hawaii threats for the entire third quarter.
But on cue to continue the theme of a tale-of-two-quarters, Hawaii’s best drive of the game kicked off the fourth quarter. ‘Bow QB Brayden Schager led a seven-play, 75-yard drive, and a 22-yard TD catch by Hawaii’s Steven Fiso, along with a wide open two-point conversion catch.
With Hawaii trying to pick up the tempo, the once “relaxed” Spartan defense battened down the hatches after the Spartan offense tried to make it a three possession game in the middle of the fourth quarter.
“We felt that we had to get points there,” said Brennan on calling three timeouts for a mid-fourth quarter drive to close out Hawaii. “Sometimes when you’re in flow, things just roll, but Hawaii was doing two very different defenses. We just had to talk about all that, because we also knew we had to keep running the ball.”
“So on fourth and four, I’m saying, ‘Ok, this is the big play of the game,” said Brennan further explaining the three timeouts in one series. “If we didn’t get it, we were going to give up good field position, but I was confident in our offense, so I wasn’t that worried about using all of our time outs during that drive.”
San Jose State’s Taren Schive ended up kicking two fourth quarter field goals leaving the signature series of the game to the Spartan defense - a forever drive by Hawaii deep in the red zone that was completely shutdown.
“Throughout the whole week, coach White and the staff brought this mentality of “Not my man,” said Spartan cornerback Nehemiah Shelton who made two key stops on the final Spartan defensive stand. “Whenever any of us are on the field, it’s about, ‘It’s not my man that’s going to make the play against us,’ We took that to heart and ran with it ever since.”
Brennan on the Spartan defense holding off Hawaii’s last drive, “I was so happy. All week was really emotional, because of what those guys have been through in our program. Cade (Hall) and Junior (Fehoko) are the leaders of our team and our team goes by how our defensive front plays. Cade is a leader and Junior is the emotional leader.”
The Spartans’ winning season will look to earn them a deserved bowl bid somewhere and more importantly, more time together and more official practice time that helps the players going into next season.