Hawaii football fights through sloppy play to hold off Portland State in Manoa debut

·5 min read

Sep. 5—In the celebration of a 49-35 slugfest over Portland State, running back Dae Dae Hunter made sure the Hawaii football team got in the last swing.

In what has become a postgame tradition, the Rainbow Warrior of the game is handed a sledgehammer to crush a symbolic rock of success.

"It was a good swing, a really good swing, " said Hunter, who rushed for 128 yards, including a 59-yard dash that put the Warriors insurmountably ahead in the fourth quarter. "It was a great experience to break the rock. I had a sledgehammer, and I hit it like a tire. I've got a little piece of the rock in my backpack right now. Good memories today. You feel me, good memories."

It was a historic time for the Warriors, who were playing their first on-campus game in the program's century-plus history. Because Aloha Stadium, their home for their previous 45 seasons, was unavailable to host spectator events because of structural concerns, UH retrofitted the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex into a functional football facility. The 141-day project featured new AstroTurf, a new scoreboard and luxury boxes—everything but spectators because of government restrictions on large gatherings.

But the Warriors were able to provide their own motivation—from last week's 44-10 loss to UCLA, from video sessions and stern practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, from the pursuit of the season's first victory.

"This week, we were definitely hungry, " said quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who was 18-for-25 for 305 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensive end DJuan Matthews, who made two of his five tackles in Portland State's backfield, said : "my teammates give me my energy. We don't need fans to give us energy like that."—In the week leading to the game, the UH coaches emphasized a quick start. The Warriors took the opening kickoff and, playing at hyper-tempo, sped 75 yards on 11 plays for a 7-0 lead. Nick Mardner's 23-yard catch was only the third time in 11 games the Warriors scored a touchdown on their first possession.

The Warriors made it 14-0 when Calvin Turner caught a lateral and eluded three would-be tacklers in a 34-yard sprint to the end zone.

On the Vikings' ensuing possession, Davis Alexander threw toward the left flat but defensive tackle Pita Tonga intercepted. Cordeiro praised the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Utah transfer as having the best hands among the defensive linemen. Tonga, who does not have the swiftest feet, was chased down at the 20. Two plays later, Cordeiro pierced a pass to Jared Smart to extend the Warriors' lead to 21-0 with 5 :41 remaining in the opening quarter.

Dedrick Parson, a transfer from Howard, used a jump-cut move to juke a defender on his way to a 17-yard touchdown and a 28-0 UH lead.

But the Vikings refused to tap out. PSU is an FCS program that is maxed at 67 scholarships—18 fewer than an FBS program. While the NCAA allowed schools to exceed limits to accommodate super seniors, the Vikings do not have the funds to pay for more than 67 scholarships. UH coach Todd Graham noted the Vikings's feisty quarterback and flex defense—which is a schematic descendant of the double-eagle used by UH and then Arizona's "Desert Swarm "—made PSU a worrisome opponent.

The Vikings, who trailed 35-7 at the intermission, took advantage of UH's mistakes to cobble several scoring opportunities. Turner, UH's best playmaker, muffed two punts and misplayed a kickoff that morphed into a PSU touchdown.

After closing to 42-21 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter, Cody Williams launched a kickoff that short-hopped Turner. The ball went between Turner's legs, and squibbed to the 3. As Turner tried to retrieve the football, it glanced off his hand and went into the end zone, where Tyrees Shakir recovered it for a touchdown, reducing the margin to 42-28 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter But the Warriors were able to counter with defensive plays in the second half.

Earlier in the third quarter, the Vikings set up for a second-down play inches from the goal line.

"The defense was hyped, " nose tackle Justus Tavai said. "We had to stand up right there and get a big stop. The defense was ready. We were strapped up. We came with a big stop."

Matthews hit Alexander, forcing a fumble, which Matthews recovered to end the threat.

In the fourth quarter, down 42-28, Alexander threw a deep pass to Darien Chase in the end zone. UH cornerback Cortez Davis batted down the fourth-down pass.

On the first play of UH's ensuing possession. tight end Caleb Phillips motioned from the slot to the backfield. Phillips, center Kohl Levao and right guard Solo Vaipule helped clear a path for Hunter.

"I hit the A gap, seen a little daylight on the back side, made a little cut, and it was just green grass, " Hunter said of his unobstructed sprint along the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown. "I let the mental take over, what God gave me, and it just happens."

That touchdown provided enough cushion, even after the Vikings scored a touchdown with 1 :13 to play, then recovered the following onside kick.

"Coming into the game, we knew they were going to fight back, " Hunter said. "We had to keep our foot on their neck, and just go down there and score. Our whole objective, every time we hop on the field, is to score and get some points on the board."—For more Hawaii football, visit the.