In the battle for the Kuter Trophy, it was an Air Force reserve who proved to be heroic.
Mike Schmidt, a third-string quarterback, rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another to help Air Force soar to a 56-26 rout of Hawaii before 20,217 at Aloha Stadium.
For the Rainbow Warriors, the game started with a flyover — former UH slotback Britton Komine piloted a C17 — and ended in a cloud of despair.
“They deserve a ton of credit,” UH coach Nick Rolovich said of the Falcons, who reclaimed the rivalry trophy. “They made the trip. They came over here and they choked us out, especially in the fourth quarter.”
The Warriors, perhaps jet-lagged from the previous week’s road loss at Boise State, recognized the challenge of facing the Mountain West’s most disciplined team. The Falcons attack from the triple-option, a multi-functional offense that utilizes the fullback dive, quarterback keeper and pitch. But under coach Troy Calhoun, a former Falcons quarterback, there is now a fourth option: the play-action pass.
The Falcons made use of all their offensive weapons in amassing 522 yards, an average of 9.0 yards per play. They also amassed six plays of 20-plus yards, including Schmidt’s 61-yard touchdown sprint and his 75-yard scoring play to wideout Geraud Sanders. The Falcons averaged 28.2 yards on their six completions.
“They execute at a high, high rate,” UH defensive coordinator Corey Batoon said, “and give people problems, like we had tonight.”
The Warriors had worked on defending the triple option this past week and parts of spring ball and training camp. But the rehearsals could not match the hyper-speed of the Falcons’ execution nor their mastery in knowing when to hold and when to pitch.
“They’ve been doing that option for a long time,” Batoon said.
And it was why the Falcons made a seamless transition when quarterback Donald “DJ” Hammond exited on the fifth play of the Falcons’ first drive with an apparent injury to his right (throwing) arm. Isaiah Sanders, who started the opener, was unavailable for his fourth consecutive game because of an injury. Calhoun opted to hand the offense to Schmidt, a senior who made two cameos this season and no appearances in 2018.
But Schmidt wasted little time making an impact. Two plays after Hammond’s departure, Schmidt induced a manhunt, then pitched to Kadin Remsberg for a 2-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead the Falcons would not relinquish.
Rolovich said when the Falcons are in system, either of the quarterbacks can be effective.
“The first guy (Hammond) is talented, the second guy (Schmidt) is talented,” Rolovich said.
Rolovich had predicted the key would be limiting the Falcons’ points per possession. The Falcons entered averaging 3.3 points per full possession in their first six games. On Saturday, the Falcons’ first four possessions ended in touchdowns.
In all, the Falcons scored on eight of their 10 possessions — and one of the Warriors’. On first-and-goal in the fourth quarter, UH’s Cole McDonald threw toward left wideout Jared Smart. James Jones dived in front, peppered the football three times until it was clutched by cornerback Milton Bugg. Bugg raced 92 yards for the touchdown to end the scoring.
The tone was set early when the Warriors won the coin toss, chose to receive, then drove to the AFA 9. But the Warriors were called for pass interference on a pick play, retreating the line of scrimmage to the 24. After McDonald was sacked, the Warriors eventually had to settle for Ryan Meskell’s 41-yard field goal.
Rolovich acknowledged the Warriors needed “a few more touchdowns instead of field goals.”
McDonald was 34-for-52 for 404 yards and three touchdowns. But he overthrew several times on deep routes and the receivers had four second-half drops.
“We missed a lot of opportunities out there,” wideout JoJo Ward said. “I counted on my hands, we had six touchdowns we missed out there. That all starts with practice, executing in practice, and it comes on the field on Saturday. We missed some opportunities that hurt us. We needed touchdowns every drive. They got more touchdowns than we did this game.”
On defense, the Warriors veered from their 4-2-5 base to a five-man front intended to bracket the Falcons’ perimeter attack. Hawaii aligned with a nose tackle, defensive tackle, defensive end, with rush end Kaimana Padello and linebacker Solomon Matautia as edge defenders. It was football’s version of the full-court press. But the scheme also put the defensive backs in solo coverages and magnified plays in which the AFA ballcarriers went past the first level of defense.
Schmidt gained 121 yards, fullback Timothy Jackson had 113 yards on 13 dives, and Remsberg (10.64 seconds over 100 meters) sprinted for 91 yards. Schmidt also completed five of six passes for 147 yards.
“To be able to stop the run, you put yourself in some tough situations in your (pass) coverage,” Batoon said. “It’s about eye discipline, and playing with proper leverage, executing when the play happens. With these (option) teams, if you’re loose with your eyes, or if you’re in the wrong leverage, they can score — and they can score quickly. And that happened too many times tonight for us to be successful.”