Reserve quarterback Jason Whieldon laid to rest any doubts about his ability to lead—and produce—by completing his first eight pass attempts as Hawaii routed Appalachian State 40-17 Saturday night.
Whieldon passed for 359 yards before yielding to reserves Se'e Poumele and Jeff Rhode in the fourth quarter. "He did what we thought he would do. He made some plays. He hung in there," Hawaii head coach June Jones said. "We dropped a couple of balls that would've been bigger plays, you know, but he made enough plays for us to win the game."
The California native certainly made his share of plays, but in the end, he wasn't completely satisfied. "I'd give myself a C," he said. "I could've played better, but I'm glad we got the win."
Completing 10 of his first 11 pass attempts was a virtually perfect way to begin. Then, the Warriors hit a temporary bump in the road in the second quarter. Jones, refiner of the Run & Shoot offense, wasn't concerned. "A couple of times he missed a couple of reads, but I talked to him after that," Jones said. "I kind of don't really do a whole lot. Just let the kids play once they get in there, you know? They know it. Just gotta execute."
Whieldon's progress is, by no coincidence, on a similar learning curve to that of former UH record-breaker Nick Rolovich. Like Rolo, Whieldon is a junior college transfer. "He's kind of like Rolo was," Jones recalled. "In the first year, Rolo didn't really know what we were doing, but had some success. The second year is usually where it clicks in, and I'm sure Jason will echo that, too."
With starter Tim Chang sidelined due to an academic infraction, the weight of Hawaii's offensive attack rested on Whieldon's shoulders. The senior delivered impeccably. He was 3-of-3 for 65 yards in Hawaii's opening possession. The Warriors capped a five-play, 74-yard march with John West's 13-yard run around left end. Justin Ayat's PAT kick gave Hawaii a promising start, 7-0, with 12:24 left in the first quarter.
Appalachian State went three-and-out on its first possession, and Hawaii responded with immediate success. Whieldon completed three more attempts, including a 41-yard catch-and-run jaunt by Nate Ilaoa. Whieldon ended the three-play, 71-yard drive with a precise 19-yard strike to Jeremiah Cockheran on the fly. Ayat's boot gave Hawaii a 14-0 lead with 9:23 to go in the first.
The Mountaineers, trying everything from an I formation to a Shotgun to a single back set, continued to struggle offensively. They went three-and-out on the next two possessions, which led to another score for Hawaii on its fourth drive.
Whieldon connected with West on a quick pass in the flat for eight yards, and then with Ilaoa for another 10 on a screen. The signal-caller proved his mortality, missing Chad Owens on a post route across the middle. One play later, however, Whieldon lofted a pass deep over the middle to Cockheran. The senior wideout eluded two defenders—who collided with each other—and pulled in the pass for a 54-yard touchdown play. Ayat's kick lifted the lead to 21-0 with 50 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Mountaineers began to put dents into the previously formidable Warrior defense on the next possession. Quarterback Richie Williams found openings on option keepers around both ends. The Mountaineers drove 65 yards, with Williams carrying five times for 40 yards. They settled for a 25-yard field goal by Erik Rockhold to end the scoring drought. ASU trailed 21-3 with 11:31 to play in the first half.
Whieldon, who completed 9-of-10 attempts for 206 yards in the opening quarter, was resoundingly effective at the start of Hawaii's next drive. He found West open on another quick toss to the flat for 13 yards. Then he drilled a bullet to Owens for a 30-yard pickup. The drive stalled, however, and on third-and-11, his lob into the end zone was nearly intercepted. Only a strip job by Cockheran prevented the pick, and Ayat stepped up with a 48-yard field goal.
The kick had enough distance to cover about 58 yards. Hawaii led 24-3 with 9:52 remaining in the half. The Warrior offense went into idle for the rest of the half. "It was us not executing. They kind of played the same way the whole game," Jones said of Appalachian's nickel and dime packages. "We just didn't quite get it done in the second quarter."
The Mountaineer offense, which amassed just 47 yards in the opening quarter, continued to find plenty of available real estate against the UH defense. The Warriors did their part to help. Taking over at the Hawaii 1-yard line following a 57-yard punt by Nate McKinney—he was a lethal weapon in the first half—Se'e Poumele entered at quarterback. A wide receiver who has experience as an option quarterback, he lined up in the shotgun and promptly threw a lob down the left sideline. Cornerback Derrick Black picked the pass and went out of bounds at the Hawaii 38.
Four plays later, with the help of a personal foul against Hawaii—a late hit out of bounds—Appalachian had its first touchdown. Williams used a play-action pass to backup wide receiver Zack Johnson from eight yards out to bring the Mountaineers within 24-10 with 5:58 remaining in the half.
They became silent for the rest of the half, however. Hawaii's defensive adjustments stifled Appalachian into three consecutive three-and-outs to start the second half. In the meantime, Whieldon guided the Warriors on a 55-yard drive, leading to a 36-yard field goal by Ayat.
His first interception of the game came moments later, when his pass bounced off Britton Komine's hands and defensive lineman Jason Blalock made an outstanding, diving play on the ball. However, the Warriors got the ball back, with a 25-yard punt return by Owens to set up great field position. On the next play, Whieldon launched a 35-yard strike to Cockheran on a fly pattern, and Hawaii led 34-10 with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
Hawaii, playing conservatively on defense, sat back in a zone and Williams went to work. The sophomore found Sterling Hayward for 17 yards and Jermane Little for 14 more. He finished off a four-play, 77-yard drive with a simple crossing route pass to DaVon Fowlkes, who blazed by David Gilmore for a 46-yard touchdown play—against UH's first blitz in the drive. The lead was down to 34-17 with 11 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Former Saint Louis standout Ross Dickerson, who took over kick returning duties in the second quarter, came up with the first highlight of his freshman season. The 5-foot-10, 172-pounder found his wedge between the hashmarks and bounced to the left side for a 100-yard return to paydirt. The PAT kick was blocked, but Hawaii led 40-17 as time expired at the end of the third quarter.