When the Mountain West Conference released its schedule earlier this year, you know full well everyone on the University of Nevada football team asked, “When do we play Hawaii?”
The Rainbow Warriors handled the Wolf Pack by 51 in Nevada’s back yard last fall, their worst home loss since World War I. Unbeaten entering Aloha Stadium, Nevada expected the long flight home to Reno to be a happy one. It was not thanks to the play of current quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and former signal-caller turned jack of all trades Calvin Turner to lead Hawaii to a stunning 24-21 defeat of the Wolf Pack.
The league loss dropped Nevada to 5-1 for the season while leveling UH’s mark at 3-3. It was a signature victory for UH head coach Todd Graham, who devised a defensive game plan of bend, but try not to break too often. It worked well enough for the Warriors to clinch the win with a victory formation at the Nevada 2-yard line.
Cordeiro wasn’t spectacular. He completed 26 of 32 for 246 yards and one touchdown to Turner. He also ran the ball 15 times for 62 yards and another score to provide a one-two punch the Wolf Pack couldn’t contain on key plays. Cordeiro and the UH offense converted 10 third downs and one huge fourth down to do just enough to get the win.
Turner produced 152 all-purpose yards, including 47 on a kickoff return at a crucial point in the game. He scored on a touchdown pass right before the half that gave UH a 10-7 advantage at intermission.
Nevada trailed 17-7 to start the fourth quarter, but was already knocking on Hawaii’s front door with a second-down play at the Hawaii 11. Running back Toa Taua had 10 yards on one run up the middle and then scored from 1 yard out to cut the margin to 17-14 with 14:28 remaining in the fourth quarter. At this point, the high-octane passing game of the Wolf Pack opted to run and run and run some more as Taua had 131 yards on 20 carries.
But would it be enough against a Warriors defense that took away the Wolf Pack’s big-play passing capability in favor of the run and passes underneath to big tight end Cole Turner. Hawaii countered with an efficient offense of its own with Cordeiro converting key third downs throughout the second half.
One was a huge 19-yard completion off play-action from Cordeiro to Rico Bussey that eventually led to another third-down play at the Nevada 21. Cordeiro converted it on a slant pass to Melquise Stovall for 14 yards. Two plays later, Cordeiro took it in from 2 yards out to make it 24-14 UH with 9:31 left in the game.
Nevada wasn’t going home without a fight. Granted, it wasn’t from long distance, but the Wolf Pack offense was effective enough to move into scoring territory with plenty of time left in the game. Facing a third-and-8 at the UH 18, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong went for it all and connected on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tory Horton over UH cornerback Michael Washington. Brandon Talton added the PAT to make it 24-21 with 5:38 left.
Strong hit 20 of 25 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. But connected with big-play receiver Romeo Doubs only once for 10 yards. He settled for underneath routes to tight end Cole Turner, who had six catches for 48 yards and a score.
All-everything Calvin Turner took the ensuing kickoff back 47 yards for UH to the Nevada 46. Two player later, Turner took a flat route for 16 yards for a big first down as the clock slipped under the four-minute mark. But the Wolf Pack tackled Turner for a loss to set up a fourth-and-6. Graham went for it and Cordeiro hit Turner for 9 yards on a rub route and a first down with less than two minutes to go.
It set up one more third down, but a false start by UH made it third-and-7 with Cordeiro opting to go for a fade route to Saint Louis School teammate Jonah Panoke, who was interfered with in the end zone, setting up the victory formation.
Down 10-7 to start the third quarter, Nevada got Hawaii off the field quickly and then drove down the field mixing run and pass in a steady, if not flashy fashion. But a bad snap from center with Strong in the shotgun led to a third-and-17 the Wolf Pack failed to convert. No matter, Strong hit the perfect pooch kick that was downed at the UH 1 midway through the period.
The Warriors got a first via a face-mask penalty on third down and then an 11-yard completion on another third-down snap that got them out of the shadow of their own goal line. Facing a third-and-2, Turner picked up 30 yards out of the wildcat and then another 15 was tacked on for a horse-collar tackle to give UH a first down at the Nevada 13.
Two plays later, Miles Reed scored from 4 yards out and Matthew Shipley added the PAT to make it 17-7 with 3:20 left in the third quarter. The 10-play, 99-yard drive took four minutes off the clock and had Nevada down 10 and in need of some offense. Taua crossed the century mark midway through the quarter on 16 bruising carries. Strong finally completed a pass to Doubs for a first down and then another to Taua for a first down at the UH 31.
A late hit by UH kept the drive alive at the UH 15 as the third quarter ended with UH leading 17-7.
Hawaii scored first with a 31-yard field goal by Shipley that barely stayed inside the left upright to make it 3-0 with 10:11 left in the second quarter. At this point in the game, each team had the ball only twice with the Wolf Pack sticking to its ground game if the Warriors defense was going to give it to them.
This steady diet of running the ball had the game moving quickly before Strong decided to air out his arm midway through the period. It led to a first-and-goal at the 4 that Strong converted into a touchdown pass to Turner on a fade route near the left sideline of the end zone. Talton added the PAT to give Nevada a 7-3 lead with 2:57 left in the half. The 13-play drive was 81 yards and took 7:08 off the clock.
The game was barely an hour old and the second quarter was inside the three-minute mark. Plenty of time for the Warriors to stick some points on the board before intermission. Facing a third-and-15 early in the drive Cordeiro tucked and ran for 25 yards, then had another scamper two plays later that led to a 12-yard gain and a late hit, giving UH a first-and-goal at the 8.
Cordeiro found Turner on a simple flat route set up on a legal pick play that made it 10-7 with 59 ticks left in the quarter. Earlier in the eight-play, 75-yard drive Nevada used all of its timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back. Well, it worked, but instead of leading by four, the Wolf Pack were down three and looking for some big-play offense. But it just wasn’t there in the opening 30 minutes.
Nevada got the ball first and ate up half of the first quarter, going 43 yards on 13 plays before a personal foul penalty ruined the Wolf Pack’s plans of scoring points on the opening series. Hawaii also failed on its first drive, picking up a couple of first downs, but stuffed on a third-and-1 that led to a nice punt that had Nevada starting its second drive at its own 5.
The Wolf Pack kept the ground game on the front page of the playbook and quickly moved to the UH 45 on only two basic run plays. But the drive stalled and the first quarter came and went with no score.
For more Hawaii football, visit the Warrior Beat blog.