A football game can be ugly for 59 minutes and just one pretty play can turn it into a thing of beauty.
And so it was for the University of Hawaii tonight at Aloha Stadium, when true freshman quarterback Chevan Cordeiro stepped out of a sack, kept his balance and then found JoJo Ward in the end zone with 1:26 left for a 38-yard touchdown pass. It was Hawaii’s first lead of the game, and the only one it needed in a 17-13 victory.
“That last play was crazy,” Ward said at the postgame press conference. “It felt like something in a movie. I just had to make a play.”
Then it was Hawaii’s defense’s turn to play clutch — again. Wyoming drove to the UH 14, but time expired.
“We’ve done so many two-minute drills,” said defensive end Kaimana Padello, who had two sacks among his three tackles for losses. “It’s ridiculous how prepared we were.”
Surprising UH is now 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain West Conference. Wyoming fell to 2-4 and 0-2.
UH won without injured starting quarterback Cole McDonald — and with a tremendous overall effort by the defense, which did not allow a touchdown.
“This win was on the back of the defense,” UH head coach Nick Rolovich said. “They took it upon themselves to be the leaders. They were lights-out except one chunk run. Corey (Batoon, defensive coordinator) and those guys had great communication.”
Wyoming’s one long gain on offense was a 63-yard run by Nico Evans that led to a field goal to put the Cowboys up 13-10 late in the fourth quarter. (Before that, its longest play was a 61-yard interception return for a TD.)
Hawaii’s decisive drive went 68 yards on 10 plays. Rolovich decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 at the UH 41 with 4:08 left. Dayton Furuta came through with the first down. Furuta carried 16 times for 101 yards.
“You look in their eyes, and you see it in their soul,” Rolovich said, in deciding to go for it instead of punting in that situation.
With 1:35 left, a sack of Cordeiro put the ball back to the Wyoming 38, setting up the touchdown pass to Ward.
Hawaii yielded just two of 12 third-down conversions to the Cowboys.
Defensive lineman Zeno Choi and Rolovich both said the home crowd noise helped.
“I feel like the crowd had a huge impact on last drive,” Choi said. “I never heard Aloha Stadium that loud. And like Kaimana said, the DBs trust the front and the front trusts the DBs.”
In his college debut, Cordeiro completed 19 of 29 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. He was sacked four times and netted 23 yards on 12 carries.
“Chevan Cordeiro almost won the (starting) job in training camp,” Rolovich said. “He’s not here for big numbers. He’s here for the smile he’s gonna get from the young kid he sees tomorrow. He wants to represent this state with a Warrior jersey. That’s what he told us when he signed. He doesn’t say a lot, but I believe he dreamt about this moment when he put pen to paper.”
Rolovich said he does not know when McDonald will be available to play again, but added, “It’s not going to be really long term.”