Aztecs Wave “Mahalo” to Rainbow Warriors in 17-10 victory

Senior+running+back+Greg+Bell+running+the+ball+during+the+game+against+Hawaii+%28Photo+Courtesy+of+Justin+Truong%2FSDSU+Athletics%29.

Justin Truong/SDSU Athletics

Senior running back Greg Bell running the ball during the game against Hawaii (Photo Courtesy of Justin Truong/SDSU Athletics).

by Nick Coppo, Staff Writer

The Aztecs went on the road and outlasted the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii 17-10 in a gritty battle on Saturday night. In a game where offense was at a premium, constant pressure on the quarterback, a little trickeration and timely takeaways ended up being the difference. 

After the disappointing loss to Fresno State last weekend that knocked them out of first place in the Mountain West, the Aztecs bounced back to nab a much-needed victory in Honolulu — historically, a difficult place to secure a win. Since 2018, the Rainbow Warriors are 18-7 on their home turf. 

The first points of the game came by way of an eight-play, 47-yard drive capped off with a five-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Greg Bell — his seventh of the year. 

As the Hawaii offense struggled to move the ball on their first two drives, the defense was able to give the Rainbow Warriors a spark with a strip-sack of senior quarterback Lucas Johnson at the end of the first quarter deep in SDSU territory. The turnover was Hawaii’s 21st this season — fourth-most in the NCAA.

The Rainbow Warriors did not waste any time capitalizing on the turnover as junior quarterback Cheven Cordeiro found senior running back Calvin Turner for a 19-yard touchdown to even the score at seven. 

A methodical 15-play, 82-yard drive from the Aztecs stalled at the Hawaii 13-yard line, which brought out Matt Araiza for a field goal attempt. At least, that is what everyone thought. 

Head coach Brady Hoke reached into his bag of tricks and called a fake field goal to catch the Hawaii special teams off guard. Sophomore kicker/holder Jack Browning took the snap, bolted to the left side and scampered into the endzone for six points.

“We talk about Matt (Araiza) being a good athlete, Jack (Browning) is a really good athlete,” Hoke said. 

It was a play that the team has worked on in practice. Hoke saw an opportunity to capitalize after seeing the formation. “Once we could secure the 3-technique off the double, we knew we had something that would be pretty good for us.” 

The Aztecs boasted a 14-7 lead at halftime as both offenses underwhelmed. 

For the Aztecs, it was inefficiency on the ground and a few costly penalties that held the offense back from a bigger half. 

On the Rainbow Warriors side of the ball, Cordeiro was under constant duress as the Aztecs won the battle at the line of scrimmage over and over again in the first half. Junior defensive lineman Cameron Thomas in particular was making himself known, recording a sack and five tackles.

The third quarter was highlighted with an interception by senior safety Trenton Thompson, his third of the season. The pass rush also got to Cordeiro for three sacks in the quarter, asserting their dominance on that side of the ball. While the defense did their job, Johnson and the offense remained out of sync, totaling only 36 total yards and four offensive penalties. 

The fourth quarter began with the Aztecs still holding on to a 14-7 lead. A crucial drive that ate up eight minutes and 26 seconds led to an Araiza field goal that grew the lead to 17-7.

It took the Rainbow Warriors until seven minutes and 43 seconds into the fourth quarter to finally put a sustained drive together. Cordeiro converted on three separate third downs to keep the drive alive. A field goal brought the score to 17-10 with under three minutes to play. 

While it was not the most efficient game on the ground for Bell (24 attempts, 77 yards), he secured a much-needed first down on the Aztecs’ final drive that forced Hawaii to burn all three timeouts.

The Rainbow Warriors had one last shot to tie the game as they regained possession with one minute and eleven seconds on the clock. The burned timeouts proved to be costly on the final drive as Cordeiro moved the ball all the way down to the SDSU 23-yard line but ultimately ran out of time as the game came to an end.

With Fresno State defeating the Aztecs last week, SDSU needed to win and get some help from their friends in Boise in order to regain the top spot in the Mountain West. 

Senior defensive lineman Keshawn Banks was asked whether the team was scoreboard-watching prior to their tilt with Hawaii. 

“We didn’t look at it before the game actually,”  Banks said.” All we were worried about was beating Hawaii. If we don’t beat Hawaii, the Fresno State loss doesn’t matter.,” Banks said.

Luckily for the Aztecs, Boise State dominated Fresno State 40-14 which paved a clear path for SDSU to take back control of the conference.

The Aztecs are now 8-1 on the season and have Nevada and their NFL prospect quarterback, senior Carson Strong to think about next week.