After back-to-back home losses, the University of Hawai‘i football team decided to move in a different direction at the team’s most important position. After starting all nine games this season, redshirt junior Cole McDonald was relegated to back-up duty. In his stead, redshirt freshman Chevan Cordeiro erupted to lead the Rainbow Warriors (6-4, 3-3 Mountain West Conference) to a 42-40 shootout victory over the San Jose State Spartans.
"It's probably the toughest decision of my head coaching career," head coach Nick Rolovich said of the quarterback change. "By the numbers, you could be talking about taking the offensive player of the conference off the field. I respect Cole McDonald so much for the way he handled it.”
"I'll say this with conviction,” Rolovich added. “The three best quarterbacks in this conference (might) have been in this stadium tonight."
Cordeiro finished with 309 yards through the air on 31 pass attempts, good for 3 touchdowns. But he also put his speed and shiftiness on display, racking up 56 yards while punching the ball into the endzone for two more touchdowns.
Alongside Cordeiro, the running game continues to trend upwards. The unit finished with 200 or more yards for the third straight game. Redshirt sophomore Miles Reed carried the load for the run game, with a career-high 124 yards and 1 touchdown.
“That’s the word with Miles Reed: energy,” Rolovich said. “He has excellent vision. He’s got quick feet. He’s got toughness that exceeds his physical stature. But his energy is inspiring when he runs.”
Senior receiver JoJo Ward had a nice bounce back game against the Spartans. After failing to cross the hundred-yard mark since his breakout game against Oregon State on Sept. 7, Ward faced no such troubles against SJSU, racking up 170 yards and 2 touchdowns. All the while, he displayed a clear connection with Cordeiro, particularly on deep balls.
With the win, the ‘Bows have won the first ever Dick Tomey Legacy Trophy. The legendary coach died earlier this year in May. Tomey previously stood at the helm of both programs. The trophy was created to represent the rivalry between Hawai‘i and San Jose State, with the ‘Bows being the ones to scratch their name on it first.
"I think coach (Dick) Tomey is looking down at a game he would be proud of," Nick Rolovich said. "He influenced the way both teams played, and the way that both teams fought. It was a great night at Aloha Stadium."
San Jose State opened the game with a field goal, on a drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. Spartans quarterback Josh Love threw for 51 yards on the drive.
Following the field goal, the ‘Bows trotted out for their first offensive drive of the game, ending a week of mystery and revealing Cordeiro as the starting quarterback. Cordeiro promptly opened the drive with an 8-yard completion to senior receiver Jason-Matthew Sharsh. However, the ‘Bows ended up losing 5 yards for an illegal man downfield, resulting in a 2nd and 7.
Cordeiro continued looking for Sharsh, as the duo connected for gains of 12 and 10 yards. Those plays, along with a 12-yard Cordeiro scramble, led the ‘Bows into the red zone. The drive soon stalled however, with the team finding themselves on fourth down at the 5-yard line. Rolovich decided to take a chance on fourth and short, and the gamble was rewarded with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cordeiro to senior receiver JoJo Ward.
The 14 play, 75 yard drive took well over eight minutes off the clock, sending the game into the second quarter.
On the ensuing Spartan drive, senior defensive back Ikem Okeke came down with a big interception off of a tipped ball drill. However, the play was called back due to a UH defensive holding penalty that caused the tipped ball. Armed with a second chance, the Spartans drove down the field, before punching the ball into the end zone with a 6-yard rushing touchdown.
Soon, it became the defenses’ time to shine. On the ‘Bows’ first drive of the second quarter, Cordeiro was hit in the pocket, resulting in a fumble and an SJSU recovery. The Hawai‘i defense too stood strong, as the Spartans moved backwards to the tune of -5 yards on the drive, before converting a field goal to extend their lead.
Now trailing 13-7, the ‘Bows opened up their offense. After a 4-yard Miles Reed run to start the drive, Cordeiro found Ward for a 71-yard touchdown bomb.
Following another SJSU touchdown, Hawai‘i responded with a 75-yard drive. The drive was highlighted by a 46-yard connection from Cordeiro to Ward, before Reed capped off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
The defense held the Spartans to a field goal, which nevertheless gave them a 23-21 lead. San Jose State carried that lead into the locker room after a last second Cordeiro heave fell through redshirt freshman Nick Mardner’s hands in the end zone.
Quarter three proved to be a mirror image of the first. The Bows opened things up with nine play, 87-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Hawai‘i picked up four first downs on the long drive. Reed rumbled for a 16-yard run to begin the first down barrage, Cordeiro found junior receiver Jared Smart for a 19-yard gain, before picking up another 13-yard gain on a scramble. Cordeiro’s 16-yard toss to Ward set up the ‘Bows near the goal line, leading to a 3-yard touchdown on a Cordeiro scramble to give Hawai‘i the lead.
The Spartans responded with an eight minute drive that spanned 67 yards. SJSU picked up five first downs on the drive, but the drive stalled in the red zone. The Spartans were forced to take a field goal, which cut the UH lead down to 28-26.
With a minute left in the third, the ‘Bows picked up three first downs in four plays, including a career-long 31-yard Reed run to open the drive. Cordeiro then found Ward and Smart for gains of 11 and 17 before the clock ticked to zero. The ‘Bows picked up where they left off, as Cordeiro found Smart in the endzone for a leaping 5-yard touchdown grab.
Trailing by nine and needing to preserve the time on the clock, San Jose State killed two birds with one stone. The Spartans needed only five plays and two minutes to drive down the field and score. Love began and ended the drive with 40-yard completions, with the latter going to receiver Bailey Gaither for a touchdown to close the gap to two points.
Hawai‘i proved that they too could use the clock to their advantage. The ‘Bows drained five minutes off the clock with a 12 play, 85-yard scoring drive. After an early false start but them in a 1st and 15 hole, Reed took off for a 28-yard run to move the chains. Cordeiro later joined in on the rush party with an 8-yard scramble for a first down. Not to be left out, redshirt junior Fred Holly III picked up yet another first down with a 14-yard rush. The ‘Bows continued to run free, as Cordeiro and Reed each picked up first downs with runs of 8 yards and 14 yards respectively. Fittingly, the drive ended with a run, as Cordeiro dove into the endzone for a 2-yard rushing touchdown, his second of the game.
The game was far from over however, as the Spartans drove 75 yards down the field in two and half minutes to score with a 19-yard completion to the endzone. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Hawai‘i, but SJSU still held all three timeouts with 1:50 to play.
The clinching drive for the ‘Bows was jumpstarted by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty called on San Jose State. Now needing only five yards to ice the game, Hawai‘i picked up just enough with 7 yards for the first down. With the Spartans now out of timeouts, the ‘Bows took a knee on three straight possessions to seal the 42-40 win.
Hawai‘i will now head back out on the road after a two-game homestand at Aloha Stadium. With the magic number down to one for bowl qualification, the ‘Bows will have three more chances to achieve that feat this season.
The Rainbow Warriors will take on UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium on Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. HST.