Fresno State was not at its best at the start, butter-knife sharp at best. But then came a 41-minute break during the second quarter because of lightning in the area around Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
When the Bulldogs came back out, all of the moving parts had been put into better working order and they ended up avoiding a big giveaway and grinding their way to a 31-21 victory over Hawaii in a game that ended just before midnight on the West Coast.
“It’s nice to get a victory, but boy it was stressful down the stretch there,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
“We made some critical mistakes, some holding calls got us backed up and then a tipped ball for an interceptions, but we came away with the win. That’s the bottom line.”
The Bulldogs (7-3, 5-1 Mountain West) again relied on their defense, which after the delay gave up nothing easily.
Hawaii gained zero yards on its last nine plays before halftime and after the delay.
Once the Rainbow Warriors cut a 24-point deficit to 10 in the fourth quarter, they were thwarted again by a big third-down sack by Robert Stanley and an end-zone interception by Tank Kelly with 2:14 to go.
“I was right there,” said defensive end Tobenna Okeke, who had three sacks and forced two fumbles. “I was praying that he got that beecause (Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown) just heaved it up, so I hoped one of us got it.”
With that, Fresno State secured the victory and one season after going 1-11 it is one win away from clinching a spot in the conference championship game. They play at Wyoming next Saturday and end the regular season Nov. 25 against Boise State, which is 6-0 in conference play to lead the Mountain Division.
The Bulldogs allowed 272 yards, getting large games from Okeke and linebackers George Helmuth, James Bailey and Jeffrey Allison.
The Rainbow Warriors (3-7, 1-6) fielded an offensive line that has been beaten up by injury, and they had no match for Okeke off the edge. “I just felt like I could beat them with speed, so I just did that,” he said.
Fresno State had eight tackles for loss, including five sacks. Outside linebacker Justin Green had the Bulldogs’ other sack.
Brown hit 18 of 31 passes for 154 yards – he entered Saturday second in the conference in passing, averaging 249.4 yards per game. The Rainbow Warriors also were averaging 5.3 yards per rush but gained just 118 yards on 37 plays – an average of 3.2 per play.
“They kind of changed philosophy in the second half, went to empty and tried to throw the ball and things like that,” Tedford said. “We had a couple of key sacks that were important for us and then down the stretch here to get that pick was huge.”
The offense also found life for a time, once quarterback Marcus McMaryion settled in a bit.
McMaryion missed throws early, hitting 3 of 10 passes to start. But, playing with an injury to his right (throwing) hand, he was able to make timely plays. He found KeeSean Johnson for a 4-yard pass to tie the score 7-7 at the 11:45 mark in the second quarter and followed that up with a 25-yard scoring pass to tight end Jared Rice and a 3-yard TD to tight end David Tangipa.
Fresno State pushed that lead to 31-7 when Johnson took a screen pass 16 yards and into the end zone. Hawaii had an answer and McMaryion gave them a score, throwing a pick-6 to Rainbow Warriors linebacker Solomon Matautia.
“He was hurt,” Tedford said. “If you looked at his hand right now he has a big golf ball-sized knot on the top of his throwing hand,” Tedford said. “Just for him to stay in there and keep trying to throw it was heoric because he could hardly grip the ball.”
Check back this weekend at www.fresnobee.com/sports and in Monday’s edition of The Bee for more on the game.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
- Saturday: 11 a.m. PST at War Memorial Stadium (29,181) in Laramie, Wyo.
- Records: Bulldogs 7-3, 5-1 Mountain West; Cowboys 7-3, 5-1
- TV/radio: AT&T, ROOT (AT&T UVerse 757, 1757; DirecTV 684)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Cowboys are led by Firebaugh-product Josh Allen, who has taken some lumps this season without his top wideout, running back and tight end from a year ago and was knocked out of a 28-14 victory over Air Force on Saturday. His status against the Bulldogs is to be determined. … Allen went into Saturday’s game at Air Force ranked eighth in the conference in passing efficiency at 122.50. He had completed only 55.4 percent of his passes and was averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, ninth in the Mountain West. … The Cowboys were second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 18.6 points per game. The Bulldogs started the weekend in the lead at 18 ppg. … At 5-1 Wyoming is in contention in the Mountain Division, but does have loss to Boise State.
Fresno State 31, Hawaii 21
HAW — Noa 7 pass from Brown (Trifonovitch kick), 2:52.
FRE — Johnson 4 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), 11:45.
FRE — Rice 25 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), 1:56.
FRE — Tangipa 3 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), :19.
FRE — FG 27 Camacho, 5:02.
FRE — Johnson 16 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), 1:38.
HAW — Collie 15 pass from Brown (Pass successful), 14:23.
HAW — Matautia 19 interception return (Pass fail), 13:09.
A — 21,357.
Time of Possession
RUSHING — Fresno State, Mims 12-55, Rivers 11-53, Hokit 10-44, McMaryion 1-15, D.Scott 1-10, (Team) 1-(minus 2). Hawaii, Saint Juste 22-104, Tuiasoa 4-16, D.Brown 10-0, (Team) 1-(minus 2).
PASSING — Fresno State, McMaryion 19-36-2-226. Hawaii, D.Brown 18-31-1-154.
RECEIVING — Fresno State, D.Scott 7-82, K.Johnson 6-91, Ja.Rice 2-31, Hokit 1-13, Rivers 1-8, Tangipa 1-3, Riddering 1-(minus 2). Hawaii, Collie 6-60, Ewaliko 4-35, Noa 4-34, Barker 2-11, Torres 1-9, Saint Juste 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Fresno State, Camacho 54.