The Nevada Wolf Pack helped turn the entire Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football program around last Saturday night.
“We took a giant step forward in developing our culture,” Hawaii coach Todd Graham said after a stunning 24-21 victory over the Wolf Pack at Aloha Stadium.
“It was important for our guys.”
Hawaii’s victory also ruined Nevada’s perfect season and knocked the Wolf Pack from the top of the Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings. The Wolf Pack, now 5-1, fell from No. 1 to No. 2, while Hawaii jumped up three spots to No. 4.
“We beat a very good football team,” said Graham, whose Rainbow Warriors improved to 3-3.
This is the second time in recent years that Hawaii has destroyed a perfect Pack season. The 2010 Wolf Pack was 6-0 before it also lost at Hawaii 27-21. That Pack team recovered nicely to win its last seven games to finish 13-1.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” said Norvell, giving his stock answer he’s given after many of his losses since becoming the Pack head coach in 2017. “We just fell short in every phase, really, offensively, defensively and special teams.”
Norvell’s Wolf Pack will host No. 5 Fresno State at Mackay Stadium on Saturday, hoping to keep its Mountain West championship hopes alive.
“We let one slip away,” Norvell said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
Hawaii had lost three of its last four games. Rainbow Warriors’ quarterback Chevan Cordeiro completed 26-of-32 passes for 246 yards and also ran for 62 yards on 15 carries.
“We’re not even scratching the surface on where he can be,” Graham said of Cordeiro.
Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong was 20-of-25 for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Just one of his completions went to wide receiver Romeo Doubs, the leading receiver in the Mountain West going into the game.
“It was a very big win,” said Hawaii linebacker Darius Muasau, who had 14 tackles and a sack. “Each win means a lot for us because you don’t know when it could be your last game. You have to play every game like it’s your last. This was a big momentum shifter for us.”
Hawaii and Nevada were indeed fortunate just to be able to play their scheduled game last week. Half of the league’s games (San Diego State at Fresno State, Colorado State at Air Force, San Jose State at Boise State) last week were called off because of COVID-19 complications.
Just two weeks are left in the regular season with No. 3 San Jose State (4-0 overall and 4-0 in league play) as the only remaining undefeated team in the Mountain West. No. 1 Boise State is also unbeaten in league play at 4-0 but it is 4-1 overall after losing to BYU three weeks ago. The two teams with the best league record will meet in the conference title game on Dec. 19.
“The season’s not over,” said Norvell, whose Wolf Pack will meet Fresno State and San Jose State in pivotal Mountain West games to close out the regular season.
San Diego State (3-3, 3-2) dropped two spots to No. 6 after a 20-10 non-league loss at Colorado. The Aztecs, whose league game against Fresno state was canceled last week, scheduled the game on Thursday and had just one full practice day in preparation for the Pac-12 opponent.
San Diego State also played the game without two key starters, quarterback Lucas Johnson and running back Greg Bell, who were both injured in a 26-21 loss at Nevada the previous week.
Their absence was noticeable as the Aztecs had the ball for just 22:32, picked up just 10 first downs, did not score a touchdown on offense and had just 155 total yards. The only Aztec touchdown came on a 57-yard interception return for a score by Darren Hall.
No. 9 Wyoming whipped No. 12 UNLV, 45-14, at Las Vegas. Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay went 78 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game.
The Cowboys ran for 399 yards on 57 carries (Trey Smith had 164 on 24 carries) and held UNLV to 290 total yards. Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams ran for three touchdowns.
UNLV running back Charles Williams had just 24 yards on nine carries. “I’m aware that defensive coordinators know I am one of the best backs in the conference,” Charles Williams said. “Defenses are going to lock in and try to stop the best player. But I have to make plays if I’m going to call myself the best player.”
The Rebels, who allowed five sacks, fell to 0-5 on the season. It is UNLV’s longest losing streak since it lost six in a row in the middle of the 2018 season.
“Wyoming came in and did what they wanted to do and you can’t have that happen,” UNLV first-year coach Marcus Arroyo said.
Arroyo is the first UNLV head coach in school history to lose his first five games. Harvey Hyde lost his first four in his first season in 1982.
The Rebels faced a 4th-and-3 from the Wyoming 46 early in the third quarter and didn’t make the first down after a pass to Williams lost seven yards. “I’ll take that call back,” Arroyo said. “That’s on me.”
No. 10 Utah State (1-4) earned its first victory of the season by beating No. 11 New Mexico 41-27 on Thanksgiving Day. Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Peasley made his first start and completed 14-of-21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns and also led the team with 118 rushing yards and another score.
Peasley, who was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, also went 62 yards on the ground for a touchdown to close the scoring and seal the victory. Peasley, who had missed the previous week’s game because he had tested positive for COVID-19, was thrown into a starting role, in part, because regular starter Jason Shelley had been kicked off the team because of a team rule violation.
“That’s the beauty of having a dual threat quarterback,” Utah State interim head coach Frank Maile said. “He always finds a way. He wrestled away from what should have been a sack and made a big play. He didn’t give up.”
The Aggies also were honored with the Defensive Player of the Week (linebacker Nick Heninger) and Special Teams Player of the Week (kicker Connor Coles) this week. Maile’s nephew, freshman linebacker Kina Maile, blocked a punt and also returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown.
“This is just a huge burden off our shoulder,” Frank Maile said of the Aggies’ first win of the year. “We’ve been itching to get the zero (in the win column) off our record.”
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West football rankings:
1. BOISE STATE (4-1, 4-0): Last week: San Jose State at Boise State, canceled. This week: Boise State at UNLV, Friday.
2. NEVADA (5-1, 5-1): Last week: Hawaii 24, Nevada 21. This week: Fresno State at Nevada, Saturday.
3. SAN JOSE STATE (4-0, 4-0): Last week: San Jose State at Boise State, canceled. This week: Hawaii vs. San Jose State, location to be determined, Saturday.
4. HAWAII (3-3, 3-3): Last week: Hawaii 24, Nevada 21. This week: Hawaii vs. San Jose State, location to be determined, Saturday.
5. FRESNO STATE (3-1, 3-1): Last week: San Diego State at Fresno State, canceled. This week: Fresno State at Nevada, Saturday.
6. SAN DIEGO STATE (3-3, 3-2): Last week: Colorado 20, San Diego State 10. This week: Colorado State at San Diego State, Saturday.
7. AIR FORCE (2-2, 1-2). Last week: Colorado State at Air Force, canceled. This week: Air Force at Utah State, Thursday.
8. COLORADO STATE (1-2, 1-2): Last week: Colorado State at Air Force, canceled. This week: Air Force at Utah State, Thursday.
9. WYOMING (2-2, 2-2): Last week: Wyoming 45, UNLV 14. This week: Wyoming vs. New Mexico at Las Vegas, Saturday.
10. UTAH STATE (1-4, 1-4). Last week: Utah State 41, New Mexico 27. This week: Air Force at Utah State, Thursday.
11. NEW MEXICO (0-5, 0-5): Last week: Utah State 41, New Mexico 27. This week: Wyoming vs. New Mexico at Las Vegas, Saturday.
12. UNLV (0-5, 0-5): Last week: Wyoming 45, UNLV 14. This week: Boise State at UNLV, Friday.