Monday, Dec. 11, 2023 |
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LARAMIE, WYO. — At 7, 220 feet, the Hawaii football team’s momentum crashed to Earth.
All the good things the Rainbow Warriors accomplished during a two-game winning streak dissolved in Saturday’s 42-9 road loss to Wyoming.
The Cowboys needed 50 plays to roll up 472 yards and six touchdowns en route to improving to 7-0 at War Memorial Stadium this year.
The Rainbow Warriors, who fell to 4-8 overall and 2-5 in the Mountain West, are 1-11 in road games during head coach Timmy Chang’s two-season tenure. The outcome also ended the Warriors’ prayer-to-none chance of qualifying for a bowl berth, ensuring next week’s senior night against Colorado State also will serve as the season finale.
“It hurts for the seniors,” said Brayden Schager, UH’s junior quarterback. “I wanted them to have another game. But we have one more (regular-season game) at home. We have to win it for them.”
The Cowboys toasted their senior night, scalding the Warriors early. They needed four plays to construct a 14-0 lead.
The Cowboys did not run a play in the red zone in their first four possessions. They averaged 50.1 yards a scoring play in taking a 28-0 lead.
“That’s a good football team,” Chang said of the Cowboys. “You don’t take anything away from them. They made plays — explosive plays, explosive runs, explosive passes, a combination of both.”
The Warriors had to pick their poison against the Cowboys, who had an apothecary cabinet of concoctions. Quarterback Andrew Peasley, who has fully recovered from an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, has mastered play-action passes, throws off rollouts and keepers. Peasley was 14-for-17 for 319 yards. Running back Harrison Waylee has been clocked at 10.7 seconds over 100 meters. And tight ends Treyton Welch and John Michael Gyllenborg can clear running lanes, wash-block defensive linemen and break open in football’s version of the screen-and-roll.
“They are big blockers,” UH defensive coordinator Eti Ena said of Wyoming’s tight ends. “The reality is, if you study them, a lot of their pass game goes through their tight ends. And when you’re a big-personnel team, that’s kind of indicative of what you do.”
On their first possession, Waylee caught a hitch pass on the first play, and ran a dive on the second. When the Warriors pressed their coverage, Peasley faked a handoff to Waylee and lofted a pass to a wide-open Ryan Marquez for a 44-yard touchdown a minute into the game.
On the next Wyoming drive, the Warriors bit on another play-action, with Gyllenborg scoring on an 89-yard, catch-and-dash.
The Warriors then drove to the Wyoming 2, where they faced a fourth-and-goal. The Warriors opted to keep their offense on the field. Dalen Morris, a graduate transfer from Navy, usually is summoned for short-yardage situations. “But Dalen was down for this game,” said Chang, referencing Morris’ ailment.
Schager, who gained 34 yards on his first six keepers, held the ball on an option behind fullback Solo Vaipulu, and was stopped for no gain by linebacker Easton Gibbs, ending the Warriors’ possession.
“I thought it was the right call,” Schager said of the decision to go for the touchdown. “We needed some points when they went up early on us. We just couldn’t punch it in there. That’s part of the game.”
Chang acknowledged that was a key play, saying, “14-7 changes us.”
Waylee’s 28-yard run, Peasley’s 40-yard toss to Wyatt Wieland and Ayir Asante’s 6-yard scoring sprint on a jet sweep made it 35-0 at the intermission.
“They started fast and we started slow,” UH wideout Steven McBride said. “Even though we had more time of possession (36 minutes, 32 seconds), we couldn’t execute.”
In the first half, the Warriors could not solve the Cowboys’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme. The Cowboys would rush the edges while the secondary was in a three-deep umbrella. When the ends dropped into the flats, the safeties would blitz.
On their final drive of the first half, the Warriors advanced to the 8. Schager spotted McBride on a crossing route toward the left corner of the end zone. Schager aimed a pass intended for McBride’s back shoulder. But cornerback Tyrecus Davis intercepted.
“It was an unfortunate deal,” Schager said. “(Davis) read it. He kind of cheated the play a little bit. It is what it is. You have to adjust and come back from it.”
The Warriors outscored the Cowboys 9-0 in the third quarter on Matthew Shipley’s 30-yard field goal and wideout Chuuky Hines’ soaring catch of a 19-yard pass. But football is not volleyball, where sets are scored separately, and the Warriors’ second-half improvements went largely unnoticed. The Warriors held the Cowboys to 0-for-6 on third down. But the Cowboys scored their five first-half touchdowns on first and second down, and their final score came on Evan Svoboda’s fourth-and-18 run.
Of Wyoming’s big plays, Chang said, “Usually when things happen like that, there are going to be breakdowns somewhere — offensively, defensively. It happened early. It was a tale of two halves.”
Chang was admittedly frustrated. In preparation for Laramie’s elevation, the Warriors departed on Tuesday. They practiced in Fort Collins, Colo., on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, then made the 75-minute drive to Laramie.
“We thought this was one we could win coming off the (past) two games,” Chang said. “We thought we had a really good chance. The guys had their best practices and their best week, I thought. … Give all the credit to Wyoming. They’re a good team at home.”
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