Utah State rallied from 21 points down at the half to steal a 35-31 win over the University of Hawaii in a dramatic Western Athletic Conference football game tonight before a stunned Aloha Stadium crowd of 26,205.
Needing only two more wins to be bowl-eligible, the Warriors dropped to 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the WAC heading to the mainland to play the Nevada Wolf Pack next weekend. Utah State, whose starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton was carted off the field in the first half with a neck injury, outscored Hawaii 28-3 after intermission to move to 3-5 overall and 1-2 in the WAC.
Down 31-28 with a little more than 5 minutes left, the Aggies mounted a methodical 59-yard drive behind the play of backup quarterback Adam Kennedy and a huge pass interference penalty against Tank Hopkins that kept the drive alive.
Kennedy also completed a key 17-yard pass to Matt Austin that set up a first and goal at the UH 6 with 27 seconds left. Two plays later, Utah State running back Robert Turbin scored from 1 yard out to make it 35-31 with only 14 seconds remaining and hand Hawaii its toughest defeat of the season.
After the Aggies scored early in the first quarter, Hawaii ran off 28 unanswered points before Utah State broke through with a touchdown in the third quarter. Kennedy led the Aggies on a nice three-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with a 48-yard scoring run by Turbin as Josh Tompson added the PAT to make it 28-14 with 9 minutes left in the third.
Hawaii countered with a 24-yard field goal by Tyler Hadden, who missed from 38 yards earlier in the quarter. It gave Hawaii a 31-14 advantage with 5:28 remaining in the third.
But Utah State refused to go away, keeping a 70-yard drive alive on a nice fake punt that set up a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kennedy to Chuck Jacobs on a third and 16. Thompson added the PAT to make it 31-21 Hawaii with 2:16 left in the third.
Utah State cut it to three on a 71-yard touchdown pass from Kennedy to Stanley Morrison, his second TD reception of the game as Thompson added the PAT to cut Hawaii’s lead to 31-28 with 12:39 left in the game. The Utah State defense set up the one-play scoring drive by stopping UH quarterback Bryant Moniz on a fourth-down run by 1 inch.
After falling behind 7-0 early in the first quarter, Hawaii rallied to tie it 7-7 early in the second on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Moniz to Justin Clapp. Hadden added the PAT with 14:56 left in the half.
Hawaii took the lead on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Moniz. Hawaii got a big break on a pass interference by Utah State on a third and 3, giving the Warriors first and goal at the 2. Two players later, Moniz snuck it in to complete the eight-play, 62-yard drive as Hadden added the PAT to make it 14-7 Hawaii with 10:38 left in the half.
The Warriors built on their advantage with another touchdown, this time on an 8-yard scamper by Moniz that ended a six-play, 54-yard drive. Hadden added the PAT to make it 21-7 Hawaii with 4:22 left in the half.
Prior to the scoring play, Moniz became only the third UH quarterback to pass for at least 10,000 yards, joining Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan. Moniz kept adding to his total, as Hawaii drove 68 yards on nine plays. The last one was an 18-yard touchdown pass from Moniz to Miah Ostrowski as Hadden added his fourth PAT to make it 28-7 with 12 seconds left in the half.
Utah State scored first. After holding Hawaii on downs, the Aggies drove 64 yards on six plays to move out front on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Keeton to Austin. Thompson added the PAT to give the Aggies a 7-0 advantage with 9:12 left in the first quarter.
The big plays of the drive were a 25-yard gain by Turbin and a 34-yard pass completion to Morrison.
Twice in the opening period Hawaii got into field-goal range, but opted to go for it on fourth down. Both times, the Warriors didn’t make it. The second time, Hawaii had it first and goal at the 6, but was stopped on a fourth-down option play that the Aggies defended perfeclty, taking over at their own 3.
The Hawaii defense held, giving the Warriors excellent field position after Mike Edwards returned a short punt 20 yards, giving Hawaii the ball on the 18. Two plays later Hawaii tied it 7-7.
Late in the second half, Keeton was stripped of the ball on a keeper and wound up being taken off the field on a stretcher. The trainers immobilized Keeton as the teams met near the fallen player, before resuming the game. Keeton was taken to Queen’s Hospital with a neck injury.