Sep. 19—In a defensive slugfest, the defending Mountain West Conference football champion was left standing.
San Jose State withstood Hawaii's final-second surge for Saturday night's 17-13 victory at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex.
While spectators were again prohibited from attending because of a government edict against large gatherings, a late exemption was granted to allow the UH Marching Band to perform. But there would be no late reversals for the Rainbow Warriors in this Mountain West opener.
The Spartans parlayed UH receiver Jared Smart's catch-and-strip at the Warrior 20 into a 17-13 lead following Matt Mercurio's 26-yard field goal with 1 :19 to play.
Calvin Turner's 28-yard kickoff return placed the start of the Warriors' final possession at their 36. With Chevan Cordeiro at the controls, the Warriors advanced up the field. On fourth-and-10 from the SJSU 33, Cordeiro scrambled 12 yards for a first down with time running down.
The ensuing snap was mishandled, siphoning 3 seconds off before the clock-stopping spike. "Just mishandled the ball, " Cordeiro.
UH coach Todd Graham was forgiving, believing a quicker stoppage would not have provided two opportunities.
Instead, the Warriors set up the final play from the 21. Cordeiro rolled to his right and launched a pass that could not connect with 6-foot-6 Nick Mardner in the clutter.
"It was a last play, and we needed a touchdown, " Cordeiro said. "I was trying to throw it up. Unfortunately, they got the win."
Of the post-game locker room, Cordeiro told reporters, "everyone's sick. This was a close game. We needed this win. We can't dwell on it. We have to bounce back."
The outcome overshadowed the Warriors' best defensive performance of the season. Opposing teams averaged 192.3 rushing yards in the first three games. On Saturday, the Warriors muzzled the Spartans to 56 rushing yards, an average of 2.2 yards per carry. The Spartans were without their leading rusher, Tyler Nevens, who was announced as "not available tonight."
The Warriors also were able to contain quarterback Nick Starkel, who was 23-for-50 for 235 yards. Starkel was sacked twice—once by defensive end Jonah Laulu, who did not play last week because of an injury. The Spartans did not relinquish a sack in their first two games.
The Warriors' defense thrived despite their leading tackler, linebacker Darius Muasau, being held out for the first half. Muasau was ejected for targeting a week earlier, and the punishment extended until Saturday's intermission. But linebackers Penei Pavihi and Isaiah Tufaga played all 37 defensive snaps in the first half.
Two years ago, the teams played a game without punting. Last year, there were a combined three punts. On Saturday, there were 22 punts—11 by each team. It was two punt plays that factored in the Spartans' two touchdowns in the final 5 :26 of the first half.
The Spartans partially blocked a Matthew Shipley punt, which ended up going 15 yards. Charlie Bostic II went 18 yards on the return to the UH 47. Mixing slants and crossing routes, the Spartans drove to the 13. Starkel then fired a scoring pass to Isaiah Hamilton to tie it at 7.
UH's ensuing drive stalled, and Shipley skied a punt to the SJSU 30. While Shamar Garrett was signaling for a fair catch, it was ruled a Warrior had interfered. The 15-yard penalty placed the start of the Spartans' possession at their 45.
On second-and-2, Starkel launched a pass to backup tight end Dominic Mazotti, who appeared to cross the goal line. After a quick review, Mazotti was ruled down at the 1. In the haste, Starkel fired a pass to Jermaine Braddock for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 2 :20 left in the first half.
In the third quarter, Starkel was intercepted by Kai Kaneshiro, who was filling in for injured Chima Azunna, at the SJSU 44. Cordeiro then connected on a catch-and-run with Turner. But the drive sputtered after that, and UH settled for Shipley's 25-yard field goal.
On their next possession, the Warriors advanced to the SJSU 6, which Shipley converted on a 23-yard field goal to make it 14-13 with 3 :29 left in the third quarter. A Spartan was offsides on the play, but Graham declined the penalty, and kept the three points. "You can't take points off the board, " Graham said.
UH would not score again, which was partially attributed to going 4-for-19 on third down.
"That was tough to swallow, " Graham said. "I felt we were the better team but didn't make the plays we needed to make."—For more Hawaii football, visit the.