Mountain West rankings: Hawaii claims West Division title
For the Nevada Appeal
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are going to play for the Mountain West football championship.
“Congratulations to everyone who has invested in UH football, however small or however big,” Rainbow Warriors coach Nick Rolovich said late Saturday night after a West Division-clinching 14-11 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs.
The victory over the Aztecs puts Hawaii in the Mountain West championship game Dec. 7 at Boise State against the No. 1-ranked Broncos. Hawaii moves up two spots to No. 4 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings. Top-ranked Boise State beat Utah State 56-21 on Saturday to clinch the Mountain Division title.
“This had a lot to do with our seniors and their leadership,” said Rolovich, the Nevada Wolf Pack’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15. “They’ve gone through a lot as part of this program. They bought in to being a part of the solution and that takes character. That kept us believing we were going to win.”
Rolovich, who has a career record of 26-26 as Hawaii’s coach over four seasons (8-4, 5-3 this season), used two quarterbacks to beat the Aztecs. Cole McDonald was 13-of-19 for 144 yards and a touchdown while Chevan Cordeiro was 9-of-16 for 71 yards and also ran for 59 yards on eight carries.
“They both deserved to play,” Rolovich said.
Hawaii never trailed in beating the Aztecs, though San Diego State’s Matt Araiza did miss a 48-yard field goal with two seconds left that would have tied the game.
The Rainbow Warriors outgained the Aztecs 347-318 in a defensive struggle despite controlling the ball for nearly 34 minutes. Hawaii held San Diego State to just 89 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“To win that thing on defense is as good an ending as we could ask for,” Rolovich said. “It was a defensive game. Everybody has trouble scoring on San Diego State.”
The Aztecs also have trouble scoring on anybody. San Diego State (8-3, 5-3), which fell three spots to No. 7, has lost two of its last three games, scoring just a total of 41 points in the three games.
“There were times where it was ugly,” said Rolovich of Hawaii’s defense this season. “They could have folded and started pointing fingers. But they didn’t and were a big reason why we won this football game.”
Hawaii has now won three games in a row after a stretch of three losses in four games. Rolovich credited Nevada’s 17-13 win over San Diego State on Nov. 9 for giving Hawaii a chance to steal the West Division title on a tiebreaker. If Nevada beats UNLV this Saturday there will be a three-way tie atop the West Division with Hawaii, San Diego State and Nevada all tied in conference play at 5-3. Hawaii earns the title because it beat both Nevada and San Diego State.
“We might have to send some pineapples or some leis to Nevada for opening the door up for us,” Rolovich said. “And we took advantage of it.”
Boise State (10-1, 7-0), which has been No. 1 for all 13 weeks of the Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings this season, jumped out to a 42-7 lead by halftime against Utah State. The Broncos scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in whipping the Aggies. Jalen Walker returned an interception 15 yards for a touchdown and Avery Williams returned a punt 74 yards for a score.
“When you score in all three phases it’s really hard to lose,” said Boise State quarterback Jaylon Henderson, who completed 16-of-28 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start. Boise State freshman George Holani also ran for 178 yards and two scores.
Despite the one-sided score, Boise State outgained Utah State just 484-428 and both teams found a lot of success on third down. Boise State was 10-of-15 and Utah State was 13-of-21.
Utah State (6-5, 5-2) fell two spots to No. 5.
“Our players knew what was at stake,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Their preparation, mindset and focus was locked in and it all showed up. That was probably our best game in all three phases this season.”
Air Force (9-2, 6-1) remained at No. 2 with a 44-22 win over No. 12 New Mexico. Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond was 9-of-10 through the air for 327 yards and four touchdowns. All nine of his completions went to just two receivers. Benjamin Waters caught four passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns (59, 76 yards) and Geraud Sanders caught five passes for 156 yards and two (46, 27 yards) touchdowns. New Mexico (2-9, 0-7), though, did out-rush Air Force 268-213.
Wyoming (7-4, 4-3) climbed two spots to No. 3 with a 17-7 win over Colorado State in the rivalry’s Border War. Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay ran for 154 yards on 27 carries while Colorado State had just 48 yards in 30 carries on the ground.
Colorado State fell to 4-7, 3-4 and stayed at No. 8. Colorado State has now lost 12 games in a row combined against its three biggest rivals (Air Force, Colorado, Wyoming).
Nevada (7-4, 4-3) climbed one spot to No. 6, equaling its highest ranking since the final week of September. The Wolf Pack won the game on a three-yard touchdown run by Toa Taua with 12 seconds to play. Nevada ran for 254 yards and held Fresno State to just 53 yards on the ground.
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong was 20-of-31 for 154 yards and three touchdowns while Taua ran for 135 yards and a score. Fresno State (4-7, 2-5), which scored 28 consecutive points at one point to take a 28-14 lead over Nevada, stayed at No. 9 with the loss.
UNLV (3-8, 1-6) beat San Jose State 38-35 to jump over the Spartans to No. 10 in the rankings. UNLV’s Charles Williams, who rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns, scored on a 1-yard run with 1:15 to play to win the game. San Jose State (4-7, 1-6), now No. 11, had taken a 35-31 lead on a 25-yard pass from Josh Love to Tre Walker with 6:17 to go. Love was 37-of-56 for 465 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Walker caught 12 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown.
The game was filled with penalties. San Jose State was whistled 12 times for 106 yards while UNLV was called for 11 penalties and 76 yards.
UNLV will play at Nevada this Saturday (noon) in the rivalry’s Fremont Cannon game. With one week remaining in the regular season, UNLV is one of five Mountain West teams (along with New Mexico, Fresno State, San Jose State, and Colorado State) that will not finish the season as bowl eligible.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings for the Week of Nov. 25:
1. BOISE STATE (10-1, 7-0). This week: at Colorado State, Friday.
2. AIR FORCE (9-2, 6-1). This week: vs. Wyoming, Saturday.
3. WYOMING (7-4, 4-3). This week: at Air Force, Saturday.
4. HAWAII (8-4, 5-3). This week: vs. Army, Saturday.
5. UTAH STATE (6-5, 5-2). This week: at New Mexico, Saturday.
6. NEVADA (7-4, 4-3). This week: vs. UNLV, Saturday.
7. SAN DIEGO STATE (8-3, 5-3). This week: vs. BYU, Saturday.
8. COLORADO STATE (4-7, 3-4). This week: vs. Boise State, Friday.
9. FRESNO STATE (4-7, 2-5). This week: at San Jose State, Saturday.
10. UNLV (3-8, 1-6). This week: at Nevada, Saturday.
11. SAN JOSE STATE (4-7, 1-6). This week: vs. Fresno State, Saturday.
12. NEW MEXICO (2-9, 0-7). This week: vs. Utah State, Saturday.