Hawaii head football coach Timmy Chang told the media this week that the Warriors contest against New Mexico State was a “must-win.” No coach speak, this was Hawaii’s last home game for the next three weeks and it came against even competition. It was time to win.
As the Manoa Mist descended onto the seemingly sparse crowd at Clarence T.C. Ching Complex at halftime, with Hawaii down 17-3, one could argue this was rock bottom. No offense to New Mexico State, but this series used to be thoroughly dominated by the Warriors, and yet here they are down double digits at home at the break.
In the second half, Hawaii showed off the resilience and (over-used word) “culture” that Coach Chang is trying to instill and rallied to defeat the Aggies 20-17, straight off a Matthew Shipley walk-off chip shot.
Dreadful first half
I’m sure with enough thought and research, I could dig up a more depressing first half for Hawaii football but considering the opposition...things were bleak at halftime. Hawaii was outgained 257-99 by head coach Jerry Kill’s Aggies. Dominated. Fortunate to only be down 14.
New Mexico State running backs Monte Watkins and Star Thomas were thriving in the pass game, both scoring on long pass plays from quarterback Diego Pavia.
Hawaii on the other hand, didn’t travel any further than 16 yards on their first three drives. Kicker Matthew Shipley went 1/2 on field goal attempts. Redemption would arrive eventually, but after one half Hawaii had played as poorly as one could’ve expected.
A complete turnaround
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the halftime locker room. What did Timmy Chang say? Did everyone drink Mike’s Secret Stuff (dated reference)? After a disastrous first half, Hawaii outgained New Mexico State 239-78 in the second half with one of the most inspired defensive performances I can remember. The Aggies only had three drives in the second half, the best of them resulting in a missed field goal.
Hawaii and its run-and-shoot offense would prefer to quick strike their opposition into submission, but Hawaii showed some versatility with scheme by playing keep away in the second half. The Warriors had drives of 4:38, 5:33, and 6:36, chewing up clock in fashion we’re unaccustomed to.
It wasn’t a perfect half, quarterback Brayden Schager’s red zone fumble added to the drama, but overall, it was encouraging to see Hawaii’s staff show off some halftime adjustments.
Head coach Timmy Chang didn’t shy away from putting pressure on his team. No disrespect to NMSU, but Chang was right: Hawaii needed to win this game. If not Saturday, when? Mountain West play kicks off with UNLV and San Diego State. A loss to the Aggies would have Hawaii entering the conference race with their confidence in tatters.
There are several winnable games on the conference slate, but let’s be real: a home loss to New Mexico State would have changed Hawaii’s season for the worse. 1-11 on the table? Along with the Manoa Mist, pessimism would have descended onto Hawaii’s football program this week.
Instead, Chang challenged this team and first half withstanding, the Warriors responded. Kicker Matthew Shipley’s game-winning field goal will be a memorable highlight for Hawaii football.
That will do it, out-of-conference play for Hawaii is officially over. Hawaii is precisely where most neutral observers expected them to be: 2-3 with wins against Albany and New Mexico State. The surprise of the first five games has to be wide receiver Pofele Ashlock, who has 439 receiving yards in his first five games as a college football player. Future star, or star right now?
The Mountain West race begins next Saturday for the Warriors with a trip to the ninth island to take on UNLV. The Rebels are likely to be a sizable favorite. We shall see if Hawaii can steal an unexpected win or two in conference play. We’ll have more on the UNLV game this week.
Hawaii plays UNLV on Saturday, September 30th at 10 a.m. HT on Spectrum Sports.