UH offense rides quick start to win

Max Wittek never trailed and threw three touchdown passes in his Hawaii debut. (Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com)
Max Wittek never trailed and threw three touchdown passes in his Hawaii debut. (Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com)

A stunning opening sequence went according to script for the Hawaii offense.

Set up deep in Colorado territory by a blocked punt less than two minutes into the game, the Rainbow Warriors needed just three plays to take the lead, scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Max Wittek to Quinton Pedroza. UH then lined up for a two-point conversion and Wittek hit Pedroza again to give UH an 8-0 lead.

“Coach (offensive coordinator Don) Bailey told us before the game when we score first we’re going to go for 2 and we’re going to get it,” Wittek said. “I think that’s the mentality he’s been able to bring to our team and I think it set a good tone for us and showed confidence.”

The Rainbow Warriors never trailed and held on for a 28-20 win to open a season 1-0 for the first time since 2011.

After transferring from USC and sitting out last year, Wittek earned his first win as a college starter, completing 19 of 38 attempts for 202 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

“I waited all last year for this and to come out here in our house and go 1-0, it feels good. It feels real good,” Wittek said.

He found Pedroza on a fade in the right corner of the end zone on the game’s opening score and connected with Marcus Kemp on a 79-yard touchdown at the 8:07 mark of the second quarter.

Kemp ran a post into the middle of the field, shook off a defender and broke away for the longest play of his career and UH’s longest since Trevor Davis went 79 yards against BYU in the 2011 finale.

It was the first time Wittek looked Kemp’s way in the game and both quarterback and receiver saw the play’s potential when they walked up to the line of scrimmage.

“It was the perfect coverage into the route that I ran,” said Kemp, who finished with a game-high 116 yards on six receptions. “Right before the play you get excited knowing the ball’s going your way and you make the play.”

Said Wittek: “Once I saw the safety rotation and we had one-on-one with Marcus, I’m going there every time. He made a heck of a catch and a heck of a run after that.”

UH took an 18-14 lead into halftime, but went three-and-out on its first three possessions after the break and CU closed to 18-17. Pedroza then used a bit of improvisation to kick-start the offense.

Pedroza caught a lateral from Wittek and initially looked downfield for a throw. He decided to tuck the ball away and wove across the field for a 19-yard gain.

“I had some great blocks,” Pedroza said. “I came down to the left and (tight end) Tui (Unga) came and cleaned up the sideline.

“I felt I could get us back to the line of scrimmage at least, or more. There was no rush so there was no point in forcing something that wasn’t there.”

Kemp followed with two receptions covering 21 yards and Wittek capped the six-play drive with a 1-yard scoring pass to slot receiver Isaiah Bernard.

“It’s things like that that get us going again,” Wittek said of Pedroza’s run. “We talk about it all the time, somebody’s gotta make a play, who’s it gonna be. When someone steps up like that, I think it puts us back on track and sure enough we scored on that drive.”

Clarke savors win over CU
Ben Clarke was in the stands at Aloha Stadium the last time Hawaii opened a season with a win. The senior offensive lineman was on the field Thursday to enjoy the program’s first 1-0 start since beating Colorado in 2011.

“My grayshirt year their first game was CU and I was in the stands watching and we beat them and I felt like we kind of came full circle,” Clarke said after the win over his home state’s flagship school.

Clarke grew up in Littleton, Colo., and had gone 0-5 against teams from the state (0-3 vs. Colorado State, 0-1 vs. Colorado and Air Force) before Thursday’s win.