A streaky Hawaii offense got help from its defense at just the right times as the Rainbow Warriors held on for a 52-31 victory over Army before 22,437 at Aloha Stadium on Saturday night.
Hawaii (9-4) started Chevan Cordeiro, but it was Cole McDonald who took the Warriors home, entering when Cordeiro appeared to injure his ankle 3 minutes and 36 seconds before halftime and completing 19 of 29 passes for 250 yards and three touchdown passes.
McDonald entered with the game tied at 17 and led the UH to three touchdowns in four possessions through the bulk of the third quarter, the first-half clock stopping him when the Army defense couldn’t.
Army (5-7) dealt with a QB switch of its own when starter Kelvin Hopkins Jr. was forced from the game with 1:51 left in the first half. Christian Anderson struggled initially but came out of the halftime locker room blazing and finished with 114 rushing yards as he repeatedly led the Black Knights down the field throughout the third quarter against the Hawaii D.
Army pulled within seven of Hawaii and hung there, forcing punts twice to start the fourth quarter. But the UH defense held fast as well and the Warriors were never caught, finally ending the scoring drought with 3:51 to go increase the lead to the final margin.
Cordeiro completed seven of 12 passes for 109 yards and two TDs. Neither Hawaii quarterback threw an interception. Jared Smart (123 yards) and Cedric Byrd II (122) led Hawaii with eight catches apiece. Each had one TD. Jason-Matthew Sharsh caught six passes for 80 yards and two scores. Miles Reed led the ground attack with 10 carries for 92 yards and a score.
Darius Muasau led Hawaii with 11 tackles, six of them unassisted. Solomon Matautia had a tide-turning pick for the Warriors defense in the second quarter and Rojesterman Farris II had the clincher off Jemel Jones with 1:34 to go, a 100-yard pick-6.
Anderson led the Black Knights with 114 rushing yards. Sandon McCoy added 91 yards on 15 attempts and two scores on the ground. Hopkins added 87 yards as Army’s triple-option offense totaled 411 yards on the ground to just 127 through the air.
Hawaii next plays Saturday at Boise State on the Mountain West championship game, then in a bowl game. Which one has yet to be announced. Army closes its regular season in two weeks against Navy, a game it must win to have a remote shot at a bowl berth. Though 6-7 is the best the Black Knights can finish, if there are not enough bowl-eligible teams (.500 record or better), 6-7 teams are used to fill out the bowl field.
Army opened the scoring Saturday by beginning the game with a little surprise. The Black Knights, who run the ball about five times as often as they pass, called a pass for Hopkins, who connected with Artice Hobbs IV for a 69-yard catch and run on the first play from scrimmage.
That set up first-and-goal from the 6, and McCoy ran it in from 3 yards out on third down.
Cordeiro and the Rainbow Warriors offense looked set to answer, moving the ball down the field with ease. But UH stalled out at the 24 and settled for a 42-yard Ryan Meskell field goal that made the score 7-3 Army.
After holding Army to a 32-yard David Cooper field goal that padded the Black Knights’ lead by to a touchdown, Hawaii offered a lightning-quick reminder of how explosive its offense can be.
Spurred by a 37-yard kickoff return by Lincoln Victor to the UH 44, Cordeiro needed only two plays to guide the Warriors into the end zone — a 30-yard run by Reed, followed by a 26-yard pass to Sharsh.
The 50-second drive tied the score at 10 with 2:33 left in the first quarter.
Army drove for another McCoy rushing TD, this one from 7 yards out for a 17-10 lead, then forced the first punt of the night.
The Black Knights failed to build on that, however, Hopkins throwing a pick to Matautia at the Army 39.
Matautia returned the interception 14 yards to the 25 and Cordeiro was quick to capitalize, hitting Byrd in the end zone for a 25-yard score that tied the game at 17.
Hawaii’s defense came up big again on the next possession, stopping Army on fourth-and-2 at its own 33.
After a holding penalty set the Warriors back 10 yards and an incomplete, Cordeiro hit Smart on a 23-yard connection that put Hawaii at the 20. Smart led the ‘Bows with 63 yards in the half on four catches.
Three plays later, the Saint Louis graduate picked up the first down with a 12-yard scramble but suffered a leg injury and gave way to McDonald.
After a 3-yard run by Dayton Furuta, McDonald hit Sharsh for a 4-yard score and a 24-17 lead with 2:40 left to halftime.
Hopkins was hurt with 1:51 left and Anderson relieved him. He couldn’t get the Knights on the board.
Hawaii took over with 40 seconds left and also stalled out, taking its 24-17 lead into halftime.
Though Cordeiro was cleared to return to start the second half, McDonald stayed in the game and led the Warriors down the field with chunk play after chunk play, culminating in a 1-yard plunge by Reed that was set up by his own 18-yard run.
Army also stayed with its backup QB, and Anderson showed growing comfort, with runs of 11, 10 and 24 yards to get the Black Knights to the Hawaii 30.
Connor Slomka took it the rest of the way, capping a four-play, 75 yard drive that burned all of 102 seconds of clock and drew Army within 31-24.
Hawaii answered with a methodical drive, picking up five first downs in 11 plays that took them 73 yards, punctuated with a 7-yard scoring pass from McDonald to JoJo Ward with 5:30 left in the third quarter for a 38-24 lead.
Anderson immediately showed Army was unbowed, tearing off a 40-yard run on first down to the UH 35. The Black Knights chipped away a little at a time and reached the end zone on a 10-yard run by Malik Hancock that pulled them with 38-31 with 1:26 to go in the third.
The offenses then suddenly ground to a halt, the teams trading two fruitless drives apiece.
Hawaii broke back through with a 20-yard scoring pass from McDonald to Smart that iced the game. Then came Farris’ 100-yard interception return for a touchdown for the final margin.