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Rainbow Warriors lose 41-34 shootout to Aztecs

Timely turnovers prevent the Warriors from defeating the Aztecs despite offensive outburst

San Diego State v Hawai’i Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Coming off the bye with the desire for a fast, energetic start, Hawaii instead painted a dark picture against the San Diego State Aztecs going down 17-0 quickly in the first half. As all hope seemed lost, an unlikely turn of events saw the run-and-shoot offense finally explode on to the scene in the way fans have been eagerly anticipating. Alas, it was not enough to secure victory after racking up four turnovers. Really, Hawaii should have won this game.

Vanderbilt vibes

San Diego State has strayed from their brand of dominant defense this season, and that was evident Saturday night, but the special teams came through in vintage fashion with a blocked punt. Hawaii punter Matthew Shipley rolled out to his right and had a runner come clean, unblocked to smack the punt to the ground. The Aztecs only produced a 22-yard Jack Browning field goal, but that withstanding it was still a bad start to the game.

Hawaii’s defense later intercepted a pass from Jalen Mayden to shake up the vibe, but it didn’t last long after Hawaii quarterback Brayden Schager tossed a pick-six to Deshawn McCuin. With 12:25 remaining in the second quarter, Hawaii was down 17-0. Hawaii had done some things well, but turnovers and a special teams blunder had the scoreboard leading onlookers to believe the Warriors were being crushed. Sound familiar? Vanderbilt game vibes.

Did the offense turn a corner?

Down 17-0, all hope seemed lost. The offense has been a mess all season and the staff either seems unwilling to shake things up or doesn’t believe in the options on the bench. Then the unlikely happened. Hawaii’s offense settled down, toughened up and showed some resiliency in the form of a 10-play, 91-yard drive that was capped off by a 17-yard Pofele Ashlock touchdown. Quarterback Brayden Schager showed poise and scanned the field on the scoring drive, and it provided confidence for the rest of the evening.

Hawaii finished with a season-high 480 total yards, Brayden Schager leading the way with 427 passing yards, three touchdown passes and one interception. Ashlock led the team with eight catches and both Steven McBride and Nick Cenacle hit the 100-yard mark. Finally, real run-and-shoot vibes. Losing is never fun, but Hawaii fans can take solace in feeling like the offense might finally be clicking.

The boogeyman returns

What does Hawaii need to do to take that next step and turn moral victories into actual victories? Well, eliminate the reasons they have been losing games: turnovers, special teams issues, and penalties. Credit the Warriors for doing better in the ladder category, finishing with only two penalties and 11-yards. Once again, however, turnovers prove to be the difference in the final score. Frankly, it’s wild that Hawaii almost won this game.

The time of possession battle was lost 36:08 to 23:52. The turnover battle was lost 4-1. If I presented you these stats without additional context, you’d think Hawaii was crushed in this game. Late game fumbles by Pofele Ashlock and running back Landon Sims prevented Hawaii from storming back to win. Frustrating, but if Hawaii can clean this up and stop giving the ball away, the wins will start to show up.

Final Thoughts:

I know, I know. Hawaii fans are starting to get sick of morale victories sprinkled in with turnovers and penalties. That said, it was a positive development to see the offense explode like it did against a San Diego State defense that, while regressing, still has some good players. It’s possible to clean up turnovers and penalties, that’s all discipline based. An offense that can’t move the ball or score? It’s not always fixable.

Timmy Chang took responsibility for kicking a field goal late in the game, apologized to the entire state. That’s the type of accountability you can get behind. They’re getting closer, Warriors fans.

Fans have the right to be disappointed, but also optimistic that the team can pick up a win in Albuquerque next week. Timmy Chang has yet to win a road game in his short tenure. The time is now.

Hawaii will play New Mexico on Saturday, October 21st at Noon HST on Spectrum Sports

RIP Coach Wags