A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun. — Yes “Close to the Edge”
It looked bleak in the early going for Hawaii in its football home opener Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.
But the Rainbow Warriors shook it off and stormed back in the second half for a 39-33 victory against Mountain West Conference rival New Mexico. There were zero fans in the stands due to COVID-19 restrictions.
With UH trailing 30-28, Calvin Turner, a quarterback turned receiver, made a 64-yard TD catch and run of a Chevan Cordeiro pass, and Jared Smart added a leaping 2-point conversion grab for a 36-30 UH bulge with 12:19 left in the game. Later, with 6:33 to go, Matthew Shipley booted a 41-yard field goal for a 9-point, 39-30 Rainbow Warriors bulge.
Zion Bowens made one of his two touchdown catches on passes from Chevan Cordeiro in Hawaii’s 39-33 victory over New Mexico on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii athletics).
With 4:12 to go, UH linebacker Quentin Frazier put a damper on the Lobos’ chances with an interception of a Tevaki Tuioti pass.
“That was a hectic night,” Hawaii coach Todd Graham said. “Obviously, we started off with a lot of chaos on defense. We couldn’t tackle. They (the Lobos) had a great plan. But the guys were not going to be denied. A couple of turnovers (in the first half) hurt us. I’m really proud of our guys. It was ugly. We didn’t play well in certain areas, but good in other areas. I’m proud of the offensive line against a tough scheme that blitzed all the time.”
New Mexico didn’t go down easy. George Steinkamp kicked a 42-yard field goal with 1:21 left to get the Lobos to within six, 39-33 — the final margin. After that, Hawaii’s Jonah Panoke recovered New Mexico’s onside kick and that was it.
It was a back-and-forth affair the whole way. The Lobos (0-2) took a 20-7 edge, but the Rainbow Warriors (2-1) struck quickly late in the first half and early after the break for a 28-20 lead.
New Mexico got within one, 28-27, on Nathaniel Jones’ 26-yard TD run with 9:33 left in the third.
And that’s where it stood going into the fourth.
Then, early in the fourth, Steinkamp’s 25-yard field goal put the Lobos in front temporarily, 30-28.
Cordeiro shook off a slow start to go 33-for-43 for 410 yards and four TDs. Two of those scoring throws went to Zion Bowens in exciting fashion to help erase that 13-point first-half deficit.
There were lots of contributors offensively for New Mexico. Quarterback Tevaki Tuioti threw for 181 yards and two TDs of 52 and 29 yards to the speedy Jordan Kress to build that early lead.
In addition, the Lobos had two players rush for 96 yards — Jones and Bobby Cole. Also, The Lobos’ Jerrick Reed II did a masterful job of slowing down the Rainbow Warriors’ offense in the early going with two first-half interceptions.
Hawaii’s defense, which had a horrendous time in the first 30 minutes, stiffened with six stops on New Mexico’s last eight possessions.
“We haven’t played that well as a team and we’re sitting here at 2-1,” Graham said. “I really like this football team and how they battle. I hated not having fans here. It was strange. I do think (no fans) contributed to it (the slow start).”
Linebacker Darius Muasau led the Rainbow Warriors in tackles for the third straight time. He had 10, and Frazier finished with 2.5 sacks.
“Darius is as talented a linebacker and as good of a linebacker as I’ve coached,” Graham said. “I love coaching him. He’s my kind of guy. He says, ‘Yes sir’ and he just plays. He has a great future ahead of him.”
Nick Mardner caught six passes for 147 yards and this touchdown in Hawaii’s 39-33 win. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii athletics).
New Mexico has now lost 17 straight conference games. The Lobos looked sharp in the first half, making Cordeiro scramble a lot due to a heavy pass rush led by Joey Noble and Elmer Pauni. The Lobos held Hawaii to just one touchdown on its first four times with the ball and they also put points on the board on their first four possessions.
The sheer speed of Kress was a major component for New Mexico at the outset. He got open to catch those long passes from Tuioti. With field goals of 27 and 49 yards by Steinkamp, the Lobos were up comfortably, 20-7, midway through the second quarter.
The Rainbow Warriors, who got on the scoreboard with Cordeiro’s 5-yard TD run in the first quarter, got their first defensive stop on New Mexico’s fifth possession.
And then the home team got back in it, 20-14 at the half, on 6-foot-6 receiver Nick Mardner’s 42-yard TD catch and run of a Cordeiro pass. Mardner finished with 147 yards on six catches.