Ferd Lewis: QB Cole McDonald delivers in relief for Hawaii football team
In powerful bursts, legs churning, shoulders lowered, eyes laser focused, Cole McDonald put it all behind him Saturday afternoon.
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LAS VEGAS >> In powerful bursts, legs churning, shoulders lowered, eyes laser focused, Cole McDonald put it all behind him Saturday afternoon.
The goal line, two weeks of frustration on the bench and several would-be defenders, they were all left in the cathartic wake of a University of Hawaii quarterback playing possessed.
“You could feel the passion; you could smell it,” UH coach Nick Rolovich marveled after watching McDonald rally the Rainbow Warriors to a 21-7 victory over Nevada-Las Vegas.
It was a determined performance that assured the Warriors bowl eligibility and set up a winner-take-all showdown for the Mountain West Conference’s West Division title with San Diego State on Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
After the better part of six quarters spent on the bench since being pulled for Chevan Cordeiro against Fresno State, McDonald was summoned back on the field in the second quarter and proceeded to lead a UH team that had been ripe for another in a series of desert disasters to a seventh victory against four losses (4-3 MWC).
On a day when the UH defense made stirring stands to keep the Warriors in a game despite three turnovers and a blocked field-goal attempt and produced a touchdown of its own on Cortez Davis’ 43-yard pick-6, McDonald injected much-needed life into the offense.
He bulldozed his way to two touchdowns and 43 yards on 11 carries while also completing 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards.
Statistically, McDonald has put up more eye-catching numbers in his three seasons in Manoa. But spiritually it was an effort without equal.
“It was a lot of emotion, a lot of hardships” that forged it, McDonald said. “I just wanted to help the team to win.”
When McDonald was informed that Cordeiro would get the start against San Jose State last week, Rolovich said, “Cole sat there in my office and told me he would be ready whenever his number was called.”
Then, Friday night, Rolovich said, McDonald repeated the pledge. “He told me, again, ‘I’ll be ready if you need me.’ ”
Rolovich said, “I think that’s something for Hawaii to be proud of. I mean, he could have pouted. He could have sulked. He could have said, ‘poor me.’ But he didn’t. Instead, he showed up every day to work and came ready to help us win a big football game when we needed him.”
McDonald said, “I mean, he (Rolovich) made a decision. He’s the head coach and I’m going to respect that. But I told him I’d be ready to come get the job back. I feel like we’re in a unique position in that we have two quarterbacks that, if one of us, Chevan or me, is having a bad day, the other guy can step up and make big plays in big situations.”
When Cordeiro struggled, completing just four of nine passes for 46 yards and suffering two interceptions, Rolovich told McDonald to get ready on the sidelines.
“I said, ‘OK, let’s go, man,’ ” McDonald said.
Then, entering the game with 14 minutes, 54 seconds remaining in a second quarter where UH trailed 7-0, McDonald set to work. He drove UH 72 yards to the UNLV 3-yard line, where the drive succumbed on fourth-and-goal.
But the next time UH got the ball, McDonald guided the Warriors 90 yards, taking the ball into the end zone himself, scattering or dragging defenders with him.
In the fourth quarter, McDonald did the same thing on a 2-yard touchdown run and, then, pounded his chest.
“He went strong, he went hard,” said offensive tackle Gene Pryor.
On this day, it was what Hawaii needed and, as promised, McDonald delivered.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 529-4820.