Huge underdog Hawaii falls short against Vanderbilt

Aug. 27—Related Photo Gallery: Vanderbilt holds off Hawaii in football opener

NASHVILLE, TENN. >> In a game with a delayed start, the Hawaii football team ran out of time — and opportunities — at the end on a muggy night at FirstBank Stadium.

The Rainbow Warriors scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but their last-chance drive ended in an interception, dooming them to a season-opening 35-28 loss to Vanderbilt.

The Warriors, who entered as 171/2-point underdogs, found no consolation in narrowing the gap against the Southeastern Conference opponent. In last year's opener between the teams, Vanderbilt won 63-10.

"You want to win them all," said Timmy Chang, UH's second-year head coach. "If I start teaching these guys to accept losing or moral victories, it's not the program we want. That's not what the people of the state deserve. They deserve a winner, and we want to give them one."

UH quarterback Brayden Schager, who threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns, said: "We knew we were good enough to win this game. We don't care what anybody else thinks. It sucks to lose like that, especially the way we did. But we're going to win a lot of games this year."

In the 10 days leading to the nonconference road game, the Warriors set their practice schedule to synchronize to anticipated humid conditions. The heat index in Franklin, a Tennessee suburb where they stayed on the trip, exceeded 100 degrees during UH's evening practice at Christian Academy on Wednesday and noon workout at Brentwood Academy on Friday.

On Saturday, the scheduled kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Central time was delayed 101 minutes because of a lightning storm within 10 miles of the Nashville campus. The Warriors went from their makeshift "locker room" to a neighboring hotel's conference room to wait out the delay.

"It throws the rhythm off a little bit," Chang said of the delay, "but these guys are mature enough to handle it. We prepare for anything that doesn't go accordingly."

The Warriors were able to slow the Commodores' power game that features a three-back rotation, pre-snap motions to spread the defense, and a plus-sized offensive line that uses combo zone blocks to clear paths. But UH breakdowns set up scoring opportunities for the Commodores.

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After UH's opening drive stalled at its 32, Matthew Shipley shanked a punt that went out of bounds at the line of scrimmage. The Commodores parlayed that zero-yard punt into Patrick Smith's 21-yard scoring run around the right end. Vanderbilt's 2-point play failed.

The Warriors drove 75 yards for a touchdown, with Schager firing a 9-yard pass to wideout Steven McBride on a slant route with 7:13 left in the first quarter. "It was a one-on-one situation and I had to keep fighting," said McBride, who claimed he was held by cornerback Tyson Russell. "I kept fighting with him, and found the ball, and scored."

But the Warriors' 7-6 lead vaporized 13 seconds later. Jayden McGowan, who is capable of running 40 yards in 4.35 seconds, fielded a kickoff on the right hashmark at the 3, then raced to the left and sprinted along the left sideline to complete the 97-yard touchdown return. AJ Swann's 2-point pass to Quincy Skinner gave Vanderbilt a 14-7 lead.

Vanderbilt extended its lead to 21-7 on Swann's 7-yard scoring pass to wideout Will Sheppard.

On what has been dubbed the "Schager Bomb," McBride caught Schager's 45-yard scoring pass to close the Warriors to 21-14 with 13:03 left in the first half.

The Warriors missed a chance to tie it when fullback Solo Vaipulu, a converted 290-pound lineman, caught an inside screen and rumbled 21 yards. But after Vaipulu absorbed multiple hits, the football popped free at the 3. UH slotback Pofele Ashlock recovered the ball and was ruled down a half-yard from the goal line. But on first-and-goal, tight end Greyson Morgan moved slightly before the snap. The penalty reset the line of scrimmage to the Vanderbilt 6. Schager then lofted a pass toward Morgan that Vanderbilt's De'Rickey Wright intercepted Schager in the right corner of the end zone.

Early in the second half, Sheppard's 27-yard punt return to the UH 37 set up his own touchdown catch.

Later in the third quarter, the Commodores faced a third-and-10 from their 13. Swann scrambled to his right, appeared to step across the line of scrimmage, and launched a pass that Gamarion Carter grabbed for a 41-yard gain. The referees initially announced Swann's pass was an illegal forward pass, but after a review, the call was overturned and the catch was allowed. Seven plays later, Swann and London Humphreys collaborated on a 32-yard scoring pass to extend the lead to 35-14 with 14:48 to play.

But the Warriors made a late push. Ashlock, who was injured as a high school senior and redshirted as a UH freshman last year, caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Schager to cut the deficit to 35-21 with 11:20 to play.

"I haven't played in a real football game in three years," Ashlock said. "Getting that touchdown was something to me. It brought back all those feelings of playing football. It's the best feeling I could have."

Later, the Warriors advanced to the 1. From there, Dalen Morris, a graduate transfer from the Naval Academy, scored on a keeper to close UH to 35-28 with 4:49 to go.

The Warriors got the ball back with 2:14 to play. But Wright intercepted Schager's pass to the right side to end the Warriors' final hope.

"I guess that's the run-and-shoot for you," Schager said. "You see one thing, and you throw it, and it didn't work out. It didn't fall in our hands. It's on me. I thought the defense did a good job getting the ball back in my hands. I've got to learn from it and execute."

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