Epic 28-27 Shootout One For The Ages

When Hawaii rode into town, looking for a gun fight, what ensued did not disappoint the large and lively crowd. The 28-27 San Jose State win made the gunfight at the OK Corral look like a battle with straws and spit wads. This matchup was not like two nags in a $2,500 claim race at Golden Gate Fields, but more like the epic duel between Affirmed and Alydar at the Kentucky Derby.

Hawaii brought their gunslingers in Bryant Moniz, absolutely one of the top quarterbacks in the country both this year and in 2010. and his stable of potent receivers. The Spartans answered and brought their top gunslingers in the form of Matt Faulkner, Ryan Otten and Noel Grigsby. It was reminiscent of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday facing the Clanton gang in that small but famous downtown corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Moniz is not only a prolific gunslinger, but an accurate one, having not thrown an interception in his previous. 135 attempts prior to this game.

This intriguing matchup pitted two teams that have played many close games at Spartan Stadium. The two previous two contests have gone to overtime, and the last previous four games have been decided by 7 points or less, with Hawaii winning each game.

Another intriguing twist to this game is that Hawaii is coached by Greg McMackin, a personable and popular former defensive backs coach at San Jose State from'79-83 under Jack Elway. Furthermore, guess who the Warrior special teams coach is? Forget it, your time is up. It is none other than Dick Tomey, Coach Mike McIntyre's head coach predecessor at Sparta.

Hawaii has won the last five games in the series at Spartan Stadium. The last time the Spartans won was in 1997.

The contest started with both teams playing it conservative, like two boxers circling each other in the first round. This resulted in an exchange of possessions. However, on Hawaii's second possession, Moniz fumbled the snap and the Spartans pounced on it at Hawaii's 8 yard line, but the Spartans ended up missing a field goal off of the right upright, and settled for no points.

On the next possession Moniz drove Hawaii down the field, largely throwing to wide-open receivers and eventually scored on a 16 yard TD toss to an uncovered receiver in the middle of the end zone. On the play, Moniz rolled out to the right side and threw back against the grain fooling the Spartan coverage.

It did not take long for the Spartans to answer back, however, as Faulkner masterfully drove the Spartans down the field largely on the back of Noel Grigsby. The drive culminated in a touchdown on a well executed end-around by Chandler Jones to tie the score.

After the Spartans held Hawaii on the next possession, the Spartans drove the ball within range for Jens Alvernik was able to convert a 32 yard field goal.

On Hawaii's possession, Peyton Thompson intercepted a Moniz pass on the Spartan 30 and raced 70 yards for an apparent "pick six", but on the return, a Spartan committed a personal foul, which nullified the touchdown. The Spartans were allowed to retain possession, but were unable to capitalize.

On Hawaii's next possession, the Spartans decided to try it again, and this time they got it right. James Orth intercepted another Moniz over the middle and returned it to Hawaii's 22 yard line. The Spartans moved the ball down to the goal line, but were unable to push it in and ended up settling for another Alvernik field goal.

On the kick-off however, Dick Tomey's Hawaii special teams unit faltered. Hawaii's return man, Scott Harding, had the ball dislodged from him on the tackle, and the Spartan's Chandler Jones scooped it up and sprinted into the end zone untouched. This time there were no flags. This gave the Spartans a 20-7 lead.

Hawaii then drove the ball nearly the length of the field. The Warrior's Royce Pollard caught a short Moniz pass at the Spartan 15, but as he fought for more yardage he fumbled the ball on the Spartan's 10 yard line when he was gang-tackled by the Spartans. The Spartan's Mo Marah pounced on the loose ball, and that ended the last Hawaii threat before the half ended.

The Spartans received the second half kickoff and drove down to the Hawaii 32, but the Spartans suffered their first turnover of the evening when Rutley committed a rare fumble and Hawaii recovered.

It wasn't long until the Spartans committed their second fumble of the game when a nice drive was stalled when Ryan Otten got stripped of the ball as he was running after a reception.

Hawaii's generous Moniz once again granted the Spartans a nice present to celebrate their homecoming, when he once more put a high long pass up for grabs, and the Spartans Duke Ihenacho gratefully accepted the gesture with another Spartan interception at their own 15. Two plays later, Matt Faulker showed his appreciation of Moniz's gift by throwing a pick of his own at the Spartan 28. It only took Hawaii 4 plays to exploit the Spartan generosity by scoring on a quick slant route over the middle from Moniz to Jeremiah Ostrowski, reducing the Spartan lead to 20-14.

The Spartans once again drove down to the Hawaii 20, but Faulkner badly underthrew a wide-open Ryan Otten in the endzone and the pass was intercepted. Hawaii the ball back to near the Spartan endzone on an 80 yard scamper around the right end by the fleet Bryant Moniz to the Spartan 2. Once play later Hawaii took their first lead of the game, 21–20.

The Spartans got the ball back and were starting to move down field when lo and behold, Faulker threw his third interception of the game at the Spartan 40, matching Moniz's 3 interceptions in the contest. At that point each team had turned the ball over 5 times in the game. It did not take Hawaii long to take advantage of the Spartan miscue, as two plays later Joey Iosefa romped up the middle for a 32 yard touchdown. "That #30 (Iosefa) was a bull dozer our there tonight. He ran over us right and left. Next year we have to hit him lower. That's my fault. I have to coach that better", MacIntyre remarked after the game. The Spartan cashed in on the touchdown to a small degree, when they blocked the extra point and Duke Ihenacho grabbed the ball and raced 85 yards for a 2 point defensive score.

Hawaii once again drove the ball deep into Spartan territory, but this time the Spartans bowed their necks and refused to cave in. Once again Dick Tomey's Hawaii special teams had a breakdown, when Travis Johnson broke through and blocked a Warrior 32 yard field goal attempt.

The Spartan euphoria was short-lived, however, when a nice Rutley catch and 25 yard scamper ended with the Spartan's 6th turnover of the second half, when Rutley was stripped of the ball. The Warriors were forced to punt the ball and the Spartans took over at their own 5 yard line. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.

With only 1:24 left, Matt Faulkner found Noel Grigsby twice in a row for a total of 31 yards. After an incompletion, Faulkner again found Grigsby for 19 yards to the Hawaii 37 for yet another first down. After an incompletion to Chandler Jones, Faulkner went to Jones again for a catch-run of 37 yards and a Spartan touchdown, to put the Spartans up 28-27. The 2 point conversion attempt failed. At this point there were only 36 seconds left.

Moniz moved the ball to their 40, but two incompletions to Pollard ended the game.

In the post game press conference, MacIntyre praised his team for their fight and character. "I can't tell you how proud I am of those young men. This was a huge win for our program. We are going into November and October actually having a chance of winning the conference, and that's exciting, and these young men can taste it. I just can't tell you how proud I am of their fight. And (how they were able) to bounce back. I mean for Matt Faulkner to take them in 1:20 and win the game after he threw all those picks…..phenomenal character and Chandler Jones….what a night. Three different touchdowns in three different ways. I hope he makes national player of the week."

Matt Faulkner also had high praise for his teammates. He said, "this win means so much. They couldn't stop us. We stopped ourselves. If you can win a game and have 6 turnovers, that says a lot about your team."

Travis Johnson probably said it all when he summed up the team attitude. "The whole team knows what it's like to lose, and we're tired of that".

The team next travels to Ruston, La. to take on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on October 29.

Scott Phelps is Senior Editor for Inside Sparta. You are welcome to contact Scott with any questions or suggestions at scott@insidesparta.net.

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