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Hawaii knocks off Colorado

Paul Arnett
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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM
Hawaii wide receiver Quinton Pedroza (5) reeled a Max Wittek pass for a touchdown against the the Colorado Buffaloes in a game at Aloha Stadium on Thursday night.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Hawaii quarterback Max Wittek (13) puts on his helmet prior to the start of a college football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Thursday evening at Aloha Stadium.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Hawaii offensive lineman Elijah Tupai (56) joins his team in a haka prior to the start of a college football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Thursday evening at Aloha Stadium.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Hawaii offensive lineman Elijah Tupai (56) joins his team in a haka prior to the start of a college football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Thursday evening at Aloha Stadium.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Hawaii offensive lineman Elijah Tupai (56) joins his team in a haka prior to the start of a college football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Thursday evening at Aloha Stadium.

On a hot and humid Thursday night at Aloha Stadium, Colorado and Hawaii knew how important this nonconference football game was for both teams.

Win and get off to the right start for what will still be a challenging 2015 season. Lose and make it more challenging still.

It was Hawaii that took the early lead and held it throughout en route to a 28-20 victory before a sparse crowd of 19,511 in both teams’ season opener. Rainbow Warriors senior quarterback Max Wittek completed 19 of 38 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns to key the win.

Colorado had a chance to tie the game, moving to the UH 6 after converting a huge fourth-and-12 play earlier in the drive to keep the Buffaloes advancing toward the Warriors end zone. But after completing a short pass in the flat with 7 seconds left at the Warriors 6, UH’s Benny Fonua accidentally deflected the football as the officials attempted to get it back under center.

Those extra 2 seconds of trying to spot the football allowed the clock to run out, much to the chagrin of the Colorado football team. Hawaii began celebrating Norm Chow’s first win over a Power 5 conference since being named head coach.

The strange ending matched the even stranger pace of the game that saw Colorado lead in number of plays (93-72), first downs (24-14), total yards (373-302) and rushing yards (215-100), but trail by eight on the scoreboard because of a crucial blocked punt early and bad clock management late.

Hawaii led for the entire first half, but it was the Buffaloes who scored first in the second. After forcing a quick three-and-out to start the third quarter, Colorado opened the second half at its own 30 and moved easily down the field, thanks in part to UH mistakes at critical moments.

The Buffs countered with a couple of mistakes of their own, setting up a first-and-20 from the UH 33. Hawaii held, forcing a 40-yard field-goal attempt by Diego Gonzalez that he hit to cut the Hawaii advantage to 18-17 with 8:44 left in the third quarter.

Another quick three-and-out by the Warriors offense gave CU the ball at its own 20 for the second series of the half against a tiring UH defense. The Buffs drove to the Hawaii 37 and faced a fourth-and-3, opting to go for it. The Warriors held with the momentum swinging their way after the pass by Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau (23-for-40, 158 yards) sailed high over his intended target.

Both teams forced three-and-outs, but Hawaii got the best of it in field position, setting up shop at Colorado’s 46. Wittek ended the six-play drive with a 1-yard scoring pass to Isaiah Bernard. Rigoberto Sanchez added the PAT to make it 25-17 UH with 1:17 left in the third.

Hawaii held Colorado on the ensuing series and eventually added three more on a 34-yard field goal by Sanchez with 12:45 left in the fourth quarter to give UH a 28-17 lead.

It would take awhile, but Colorado countered with a three of its own on a 40-yarder by Gonzalez to cut Hawaii’s margin to 28-20 with 3:48 left in the game. But the Buffs got no closer.

Hawaii got a huge break early on when Keelan Ewaliko blocked an Alex Kinney punt and recovered it at the Colorado 16. Three plays later, Wittek threw a perfect pass to Quinton Pedroza, who hauled it in for the touchdown. The twosome came right back on the next play to successfully convert the 2-point conversion on a flat route to make it 8-0 Hawaii with 12:35 left in the first quarter.

Hawaii’s defense continued to dominate the Buffaloes on their next two series, allowing only one first down over the opening 10 minutes of the game. But Hawaii’s offense didn’t do much better.

The key to the opening quarter was field position. Hawaii kept Colorado pinned down on its side of the field, including the Buffs’ fourth offensive series, which had them starting on their own 4 with 3:46 left in the opening quarter.

The Warriors yielded one first down before forcing Colorado to punt from its own end zone. Hawaii took over at the Buffs’ 46, but quickly turned it over when Wittek’s pass bounced off the hands and helmet of Harold Moleni and into the outstretched arms of CU defensive back Chidobe Awuzie, who returned it to the UH 33.

From there, Colorado methodically marched into scoring territory for the first time in the game, setting up a second-and-2 at the Hawaii 15 as the first quarter came to an end. But Hawaii ended the drive with a pick by Julian Gener to keep its lead at 8-0 with 12:30 left in the half. The Warriors were 4-for-4 in the red zone. Colorado was 2-for-4.

Still, Hawaii’s offense sputtered again, with the Warriors narrowly avoiding a safety when Wittek bulled out to the half-yard line, forcing a punt. Fortunately for the Warriors, the CU return man fumbled it and it was recovered by Kory Rasmussen at the UH 44.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, they gave it right back on a Wittek pick that was returned 31 yards by Derek McCartney to the UH 23. Three plays later, Michael Adkins took it in from 5 yards out for the score. Gonzalez added the PAT to make it 8-7 UH with 9:21 left in the second quarter.

Hawaii came right back with a touchdown of its own, a 79-yard scoring strike from Wittek to Marcus Kemp. Facing third-and-6 from UH’s 21, Wittek hit Kemp in stride on a slant route. CU defender Ken Crawley tried to strip the ball, but Kemp broke through that attempt and raced the final 40 yards for the score. Sanchez added the PAT to make it 15-7 Hawaii with 8:07 left in the half.

Colorado wasted little time scoring again itself. Thanks to a nice 41-yard kickoff return, the Buffs had good field position and marched quickly down the field on a solid mix of runs and passes to set up a first-and-goal at the UH 3. From there Adkins took it in for his second score and Gonzales added the PAT to make it 15-14 UH with 4:47 left in the half.

Hawaii added three just before intermission on a 27-yard field goal by Sanchez to give them an 18-14 lead.

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