Despite no chance of playing in the Mountain West Conference championship game, the University of Hawaii football team was looking for a huge upset Saturday at Bulldog Stadium.
The Warriors not only had to win this league matchup against Fresno State, they needed San Jose State and Nevada-Las Vegas to pull off equally big challenges, something that didn’t happen as San Diego State raced past San Jose State in an afternoon meeting.
Still, the game meant something to the Bulldogs. If they won, they captured the West Division of the MWC. And they played like it in a 28-21 victory over Hawaii to drop the Warriors to 4-9 for the season and 3-5 in league play. Fresno State is 6-6 overall and 5-3 in conference, and will face Boise State at Boise, Idaho, next weekend in the league’s championship affair.
Fresno State built a 28-0 advantage behind the arm of junior quarter Brian Burrell and the legs of Marteze Waller. Burrell completed 19 of 32 for 162 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions. Waller carried the ball 25 times for 137 yards and two scores. Wideout Josh Harper also caught eight passes for 83 yards.
Down four touchdowns to start the second half, the UH offense got the ball first and managed to move into Fresno State territory thanks to quarterback Ikaika Woolsey and running back Joey Iosefa, who had a quiet opening two quarters. Facing fourth-and-4 at the Fresno State 37, the Bulldogs committed defensive holding to give Hawaii a first down at the 27 and then a personal foul to give UH another first down at the 12.
Three plays later, Woolsey was picked off at the goal line by Fresno State safety Derron Smith, who returned it to the Bulldogs 22. It was Woolsey’s second pick of the evening. The Bulldogs offense took over from there, needing only five plays to move into Hawaii territory. Burrell converted a big third-and-9 to keep the Bulldogs moving in the right direction, but the drive stalled midway through the third quarter
Hawaii took over at its own 19 and again moved the ball well against the Fresno State defense, including a 40-yard pass play from Woolsey to Marcus Kemp to make it first-and-10 at the Bulldogs 26. Two plays later, Hawaii had another first down thanks to a 9-yard run by Iosefa.
But a 4-yard loss on a first-down run by Iosefa eventually led to a fourth-and-8 at the 11. Tyler Hadden missed the 29-yard field goal to keep Hawaii scoreless with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
Fresno State gave it right back as Burrell was picked off on a deflected pass into the hands of Jalen Rogers to give UH the ball at the Bulldogs 30. Five rushes later, UH had a first-and-goal at the 6, but UH committed its fifth false-start of the game to back the Warriors up to the 11. No matter, Woolsey completed a 4-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Harold Moleni and Hadden hit the PAT to make it 28-7 with 12:50 left in the game.
Hawaii got the ball back on another interception off a deflected shovel pass, this time Simon Poti was the lucky recipient as he returned it to the UH 42. Woolsey found Donnie King Jr. for 22 yards to the Fresno State 33 and then converted a fourth-and-10 as Quinton Pedroza hauled in a 22-yard pass to the Bulldogs 11.
Four plays later, Woolsey hit King from 5 yards out for a touchdown as Hadden added the PAT to make it 28-14 with 8:11 left in the game.
On the ensuing offensive series, Hawaii forced a three-and-out, but Lance Williams was called for a personal foul on the bench that kept the ball in the hands of the Bulldogs as they tried to drain the clock.
Hawaii got the ball back after eventually forcing Fresno State to punt and quickly moved the ball into Bulldogs territory. Facing fourth-and-9 at the 18, Woolsey kept the ball and scampered 13 yards for a first down. Two plays later, Fresno was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving UH a first-and-goal at the 2.
Four plays later, Woolsey threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Pedroza, who was almost flat on his back when he made the catch. Hadden added the PAT to make it 28-21 with 45 seconds left in the game. Two snaps earlier, Woolsey was ruled down at the 2 after Smith returned an apparent fumble 99 yards for a touchdown. That cleared the way for Hawaii to score.
The Warriors tried an onside kick, but Fresno State recovered it as time ran out.
All of the scoring for the Bulldogs was in the first half.
After the UH defense forced a three-and-out on the opening series of the afternoon, Woolsey was picked off by linebacker Karl Mickelsen on Hawaii’s first offensive play of the game.
Setting up shop at the Hawaii 43, the Bulldogs needed only two carries by Waller to score. The last rush was 11 yards for the touchdown as Kody Kroening added the PAT to make it 7-0 Fresno State with 13:27 left in the opening quarter.
After forcing the UH offense off the field for a second straight time, Fresno State went to work at its own 35. Mixing run with pass, Burrell engineered a nice 12-play drive that included Waller on several nice runs. Burrell ended it with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Justin Johnson as Kroening hit the PAT to make it 14-0 with 7:44 left in the first quarter.
The UH offense continued to sputter. Not so the Fresno State offense. Starting at its own 34 after forcing Hawaii to punt, Burrell set the tempo with a 23-yard keeper that helped set up an eventual first-and-10 at the UH 13. Two plays later, the Bulldogs extended the lead to 21-0 on a 4-yard run by Josh Quezada as Kroening made the PAT with 2:35 left in the first quarter.
Hawaii finally strung together a couple of first downs, crossing into Fresno State territory for the first time as the opening period ended. Hawaii eventually had to punt.
Neither team did much until Hawaii took over at its own 42 midway through the second quarter. From there, Woolsey hit a big first-down throw of 27 yards to get the ball to the Fresno 36, but penalties and blown plays led to Scott Harding’s fifth punt of the half.
Harding pinned Fresno State at its own 4, but the Bulldogs put together a back-breaking drive to close out the half. Burrell mercifully ended it on a handoff to Waller who scored from 4 yards out as Kroening hit the PAT to make it 28-0 with 47 seconds left in the half. The drive was 96 yards on 15 plays as Hawaii managed 70 yards in the first half — including minus 15 on the ground — to Fresno State’s 259.
For the game, Woolsey hit 22 of 39 for 247 yards and three touchdowns. Iosefa carried the ball 22 times for 69 yards. Kemp caught seven passes for 117 yards. Unfortunately for the Warriors, those numbers weren’t enough to get the win.