The University of Hawaii never does anything easy.
Needing a victory against a team that had won only twice all year, the Rainbow Warriors rallied in dramatic fashion. Sophomore quarterback Dru Brown threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Keelan Ewaliko and the defense made it stand up long enough to win 46-40 over the University of Massachusetts before an Aloha Stadium crowd of 19,402.
The heart-stopping win secured a berth in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, despite the Warriors finishing 6-7 for the season. It will be their first postseason appearance since losing to Tulsa in the 2010 Hawaii Bowl. UMass finished the year at 2-10.
With the scored tied 40-40, Hawaii got the ball at its own 22 with 5:23 left in the game. The previous series for the Warriors was a quick three-and-out, so Hawaii needed to improve upon that to have any chance of winning. And that’s exactly what Brown and Co. did, as they went 78 yards on only three plays, with the big snap being a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Ewaliko, but Rigo Sanchez yanked the PAT wide left, keeping the score at 46-40 with 3:52 left in the game. It was his first missed PAT of the year.
But would it be a costly one?
UMass took over at its own 25 and quarterback Andrew Ford quickly went to work, finding Andy Isabella for a 44-yard completion to the UH 31. From there, Ford completed two more passes to Isabella to the UH 20 with 2:38 left.
Three odd plays led to a 1-yard loss, setting up a fourth-and-11 at the UH 21. Out of the shotgun, Ford tried to hit Bernard Davis in the corner of the end zone, but the pass was out of bounds, giving UH the ball with 1:05 left. The Minutemen only had one timeout, allowing UH to run out the clock and get the win.
Brown hit 22 of 30 passes for 311 yards and five touchdowns. Ford countered with 24 completions in 38 attempts for 342 yards and three scores. Isabella caught seven passes for 134 yards and Jalen Williams hauled in seven as well for 133 yards. Brown had several receivers he liked, including Dylan Collie, who had two touchdown catches for the night. Diocemy Saint Juste rushed for 122 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown as the offense did its part to win the game.
Up seven to start the final period, Hawaii quickly extended the lead on a 40-yard touchdown scamper by Saint Juste that was set up by a run by Ben Scruton on a fake punt. Scruton went for 14 yards around the left side on a fourth-and-7 snap. Sanchez added the PAT to make it 40-26 Hawaii with 12:55 left in the game. The running play ended an eight-play, 78-yard drive that began in the third quarter.
But UMass refused to go quietly, as the Minutemen began a long drive that included a fourth-down conversation along the way en route to scoring on a 1-yard run by John Robinson-Woodgett. He was stopped initially, but reached the ball across the goal line to break the plane. The extra point by Mike Caggiano, who had one blocked earlier, was good. The drive was 16 plays for 75 yards and took nearly six minutes off the clock to make it 40-33 with 6:57 remaining.
Hawaii started its next drive at its own 25 in need of first downs and one more score to put it out of reach. But a quick three-and-out ensued, giving UMass the ball at its own 35 with six minutes left.
Facing a tiring UH defense, the Minutemen went to work in need of seven points to tie and possibly eight to win. In 17 seconds, they had their opening first down of the drive with a 34-yard pass play from Ford to Williams for a first down at the UH 23.
Two plays later, Marquis Young went in untouched from 18 yards out to make it 40-40 with 5:29 left as Caggiano hit the PAT. The scoring drive went 65 yards on five plays and took only 31 seconds off the clock. Young finished with 117 yards on 19 carries.
Massachusetts came out strong to start the second half, but Hawaii finished the period still leading 33-26.
Neither team did much with their opening possessions, but the brief stall ended in a hurry as Ford culminated a five-play, 74-yard scoring drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Isabella, who took the ball away from UH’s Rojesterman Farris defending on the play. The extra point was blocked by UH to make it 24-19 with 9:14 left in the period.
Hawaii’s second drive of the half was not a good one, as Brown fumbled the football on a scramble on the first snap. It was recovered by the Minutemen’s Tedrick Lowery at the UH 26 as Brown’s fumble problems continue to plague him.
From there, UMass struck quickly with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ford to Williams. Mike Caggiano added the PAT to make it 26-24 UMass with 7:46 left in the quarter.
After forcing another Hawaii punt, UMass began its next drive deep in its own territory. A bad snap on a third-down play left Ford getting on the football in his own end zone, where he was sacked for a safety that made it 26-26 with 4:31 left in the quarter. He lost 11 yards on the play.
On Hawaii’s next drive, Massachusetts defensive lineman Enock Asante ran into his own player while rushing Brown and had to be carted off the field after a lengthy delay. On the next snap, Hawaii converted a third-down pass play to make it first-and-10 at UMass’ 39. Two snaps later, Brown found Collie for the second time in the game. The 31-yard touchdown pass put Hawaii back on top. Sanchez made the extra point to give UH a 33-26 advantage with 2:28 left in the quarter.
The second quarter was filled with offense as Hawaii went into halftime with a 24-13 advantage.
After falling behind by 7, UMass wasted little time getting back into the game with a quick drive that began in the first quarter and ended in the second with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ford to tight end Adam Breneman, who was open on the skinny post.
It ended a four-play, 51-yard drive that saw the Minutemen gash Hawaii on the ground as well as in the air in what looked like an offensive shootout in the making. Logan Laurent added the PAT to make it 10-10 with 13:57 left in the half.
Hawaii’s third drive of the game began at its own 24, and much like the first two, the Rainbow Warriors moved the ball easily against an overmatched UMass defense. Brown needed only three plays to go the distance, the big snap being a 43-yard touchdown pass to Collie, who hauled in the perfectly thrown ball by Brown. After a lengthy review, Sanchez finally knocked through the PAT to make it 17-10 UH with 12:04 left in the quarter.
Back came UMass on its next drive, moving through the UH defense almost as easily as UH’s offense did the drive before. In four plays, the Minutemen had a first-and-10 at the UH 20, only to have a big sack of Ford on first down eventually result in a 38-yard field goal by Laurent that cut UH’s margin to 17-13 with 8:32 left in the half.
The UMass defense managed the game’s first three-and-out on UH’s next drive, forcing Sanchez’s first punt of the game. The Minutemen took over at their own 31. They tried a trick pass play on first down that should have been a touchdown, but the perfectly thrown ball was dropped by Williams.
That led to an eventual three-and-out by UMass as Hawaii began its fifth drive of the game at its own 43 on a nice 15-yard punt return by John Ursua. With Brown running and throwing with equal ease, the UH offense quickly had a first-and-10 at the UMass 11.
From there, Brown threw another perfect pass as he found Marcus Kemp on the fade route for an 11-yard touchdown. Sanchez added the PAT to make it 24-13 with 3:17 left in the half. That drive was five plays for 57 yards as Hawaii had 247 total yards at that point in the game.
UMass had a good drive going again, but on a big third-down pass play, Ford found Williams for an apparent first down, but Jalen Rogers poked the ball out and Hawaii recovered it at its own 49 with 1:24 left in the half.
Hawaii converted another fourth down to keep the ensuing drive going, but a big sack on first down pushed Hawaii out of field-goal range as the half ended.
Hawaii won the toss and elected to receive, which turned out to be a good idea en route to a 10-3 first-quarter lead.
The seven-play, 74-yard opening drive by UH was a good mix of run and pass as quarterback Dru Brown guided the Warriors to a 7-0 lead on a fourth-down, 1-yard pass to a wide-open Dakota Torres in the right corner of the end zone. Sanchez added the extra point to make it 7-0 UH with 11:11 left in the opening quarter.
Massachusetts responded with a solid opening drive of its own, marching 51 yards on 10 plays before stalling at the UH 19 to set up a37-yard field goal by Laurent with 7:07 left in the quarter to cut the margin to 7-3.
Hawaii marched down the field again on its second drive and had several chances to score once it set up a first-and-goal from the 3, but two false starts and one pass interference on a pick play by Marcus Kemp led to an eventual 37-yard field goal by Sanchez to extend UH’s advantage to 10-3 with two seconds left.