HONOLULU — There have been many frustrating elements to the University of Hawaii football team’s 0-10 season so far, but one of the most frustrating is that the Rainbow Warriors have come within a few plays of at least three victories, only to walk away with that familiar “L” each time.
Everybody loses heartbreakers once in a while, but when a team gets stuck in a long losing streak like this one, a pattern starts to develop and the losses can become a habit.
Such was the case last Saturday, when UH led San Diego State 21-14 late in the fourth quarter, only to allow a late touchdown and then another quick one in overtime, with no answer for either.
When you are up, 21-14, with 6:20 remaining and the opponent is starting its drive at its own 18-yard line, as the Aztecs were, that usually means you are in prime position to win. But the 23,229 Hawaii fans in attendance at Aloha Stadium knew better than to assume victory, given the Rainbow Warriors’ inability to prove they can slam the door shut and close out a game.
And unfortunately, the coaches and players again did not earn their confidence.
UH had a chance to make the big play when San Diego State faced third-and-7 from the Hawaii 43, but instead Quinn Kaehler completed a 31-yard pass to Ezell Ruffin, and two plays later Chad Young broke two tackles and ran it in from 12 yards out, and suddenly the game was tied at 21-21 with 2:34 left.
The Aztecs went 82 yards in just eight plays, needing only 3 minutes, 50 seconds to answer their challenge. San Diego State had just scored a comeback win at San Jose State the week before, after trailing the Spartans 30-20 with just under 10 minutes remaining. After an 0-3 start, the Aztecs have won six of their past seven games, with the only loss coming in overtime to No. 15-ranked Fresno State, 35-28.
The six victories include a 51-44 overtime victory over Nevada, a 27-20 win at Air Force and a 35-30 victory over New Mexico. This team clearly has learned how to win, especially in the fourth quarter and in the game’s final minutes.
Hawaii, on the other hand, keeps finding new ways to lose.
The Rainbow Warriors still had 2:30 left - plenty of time - when starting their ensuing series, but they gained only 12 yards in six plays and the drive stalled after three straight incompletions.
UH did come up with a huge forced fumble to get the ball back at its own 26 with 26 seconds remaining, with two timeouts. The Rainbow Warriors needed only to get to about the SDSU 30 for a chance to kick a field goal and win the game, but they were able to get only as far as their own 48 and a Hail Mary pass by Taylor Graham was batted down near the 5-yard line.
It was the third time at home this season where Hawaii’s final play of regulation was a Hail Mary - not a good stat, and not the sign of a team that knows how to win.
Although the score was tied at 21-21 and Hawaii was at home and even had the advantage of winning the overtime coin toss and playing defense first, the disparity in winning confidence clearly was heavily in favor of the Aztecs. And that is exactly how overtime played out:
San Diego State came out blazing and made it look so easy: Adam Muema 11-yard rush off-tackle on first down, then 12 more yards on the very next play to the UH 2, and then yet another rush on the next play basically untouched into the end zone. Bang-bang-bang, just like that.
Hawaii’s possession was just the opposite: Joey Iosefa up the middle for no gain, on a play that the Aztecs had basically seen 36 times before in regulation. Then quarterback Sean Schroeder sacked immediately for a 10-yard loss, with the Aztecs bringing the house and bulldozing through the pocket in an obvious passing situation.
Then an incomplete pass that had little chance of success, and finally another similar incompletion to end the game with a whimper.
The worst part of this is that the way overtime played out was not a surprise to most fans. Instead, it was rather typical of what we had seen throughout this season: The other team making big plays in critical situations, breaking tackles when the Rainbow Warriors needed a stop, and UH falling flat and failing to execute with the game on the line.
The good news is that for the first time, the Rainbow Warriors played well enough over four quarters to not lose a game. The bad news is that they still have not found what it takes to win, the way San Diego State obviously has.