Hawaii kicker Ryan Meskell saved the Rainbow Warriors from a potentially heartbreaking situation.
With Hawaii ahead 40-34 against Colorado State and on the verge of closing out a giant upset to start the 2018 season on Saturday, the Rainbow Warriors looked to have the game wrapped up when quarterback Cole McDonald converted a third-and-3 with a 10-yard pass to John Ursua to move the chains.
There were three minutes left in the game and the Rams had already used their final timeout. The 40-second play clock ticked down and Hawaii ran the ball twice. When McDonald was tackled on second down, the gap between the play clock and the game clock was 49 seconds.
A simple running play on third down would mean Hawaii would most likely have to at least snap the ball one more time with roughly five seconds or less to play. UH was inside the Colorado State 20, so even if the Rams got the ball back, quarterback KJ Carta-Samuels wouldn’t have been able to heave a hail mary into the other end zone.
UH also could have asked McDonald to take the snap and run as far backward as he wanted. After all, all UH needed to have happen was the play to last at least nine seconds. At that point, UH wouldn’t have had to run another play and the game would have been over.
Instead, UH went to the same play that converted an earlier first down, allowing McDonald to attempt a pass. The ball fell incomplete and suddenly UH was forced to make a 35-yard field goal, or face a potentially disastrious ending to the game.
Head coach Nick Rolovich told reporters after the game he regretted the call, and rightfully so.
“I wish I had a chance to talk to them before that third-down play,” Rolovich said. “That’s where we need to grow as a unit. That has to be a natural. But that’s not Cole McDonald’s fault. That’s my fault. Cole McDonald did what he was supposed to do.”
Meskell came through with his third field goal to make it a two-possession game, and the Rams didn’t do themselves any favors with their play calling either.
Knowing they needed two scores to win the game, Colorado State had the ball inside the UH 40 at the edge of kicker Wyatt Bryan‘s range. It was a tough field goal, no doubt, and the probability of a Rams comeback was small.
Even so, the Rams elected to run another two passing plays before running a play designed for the end zone. Whether they tried a field goal or not, the play ultimately run had to be designed to score, giving enough time to go for an onside kick. Instead, the Rams took themselves out of any opportunity to try to pull off the miracle comeback.
Clock management. Many times it’s the difference between winning or losing a close game. Fortunately for the Rainbow Warriors, they survived this one and are 1-0 heading into Saturday’s home opener against Navy at Aloha Stadium.