The Fresno State Bulldogs surrendered four turnovers and 543 yards of total offense to the visiting Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, who came away with a 34-19 win at Bulldog Stadium Saturday night. It was Todd Graham’s first win as the Warriors’ head coach, spoiling the debut of his Bulldog counterpart Kalen DeBoer.
“We are a work in progress right now,” said DeBoer, “but we will get better as the season goes on.”
The Bulldogs started the game off with a bang on the first play, forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff. Former San Joaquin Memorial standout Mac Dalena recovered the fumble on Hawaii’s 26-yard line.
Fresno State cashed in on the favorable field position with a seven-yard score from senior running back Ronnie Rivers. It was Rivers’ 29th touchdown of his Bulldogs career, putting him one ahead of his father, Ron Rivers.
“It was an exciting feeling,” the younger Rivers said on his early touchdown run. “I can’t wait to get some more of those this year.”
New Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener threw an interception on the team’s second posssesion, after the defense forced Hawaii to punt.
Kwami Jones was a defensive force early in the game for the Bulldogs. The senior defensive end recorded three sacks in the first quarter, helping limit the Warriors to a punt and missed field goal on their opening two drives.
Hawaii would find the scoreboard late in the first quarter when, after a Haener fumble, Warriors QB Chevan Cordeiro used a read option design to break free for a 20-yard rushing touchdown.
Freshman kicker Matthew Shipley converted a 34-yard field goal to give the Warriors their first lead in the second quarter. Fresno State responded with a short drive that culminated in Haener’s first passing touchdown as a Bulldog.
Haener found his senior tight end Juan Rodriguez running a seam route from the slot, and the Butte College transfer steamrolled his way into the endzone for an 18-yard touchdown catch and run. Fresno State failed on a two-point conversion, but still led 13-10 with under two minutes left in the first half.
Hawaii then turned around and marched down the field in 1:23 of game time, scoring on a three yard rush from Cordeiro to take a 17-13 lead into halftime.
Haener led a promising drive to begin the second half, but it was cut short by his second interception of the game. Hawaii turned around to engineer a 14-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by senior running back Calvin Turner pushing his way into the endzone to extend the Hawaii lead to 11.
Fresno State responded with a drive all the way down to Hawaii’s 5-yard line, but settled for a field goal to cut Hawaii’s lead to 24-16.
It appeared Fresno State caught a break when Hawaii’s kicker Shipley knocked a field goal attempt off the left upright, but on the Bulldogs’ next possession, Haener threw a pass which bounced off the hands of receiver Keric Wheatfall and into the gloves of Hawaii’s Jermaine Pritchard.
It was the Bulldogs’ fourth turnover of the game, and the Warriors made them pay by scoring 17 points off the mistakes.
“He’s a competitor and he made a lot of big plays,” said DeBoer on Haener’s performance, “but we don’t just want big plays. We want an offense.”
The offense’s turnovers did no favors to the defense, who grew fatigued in the second half, losing the time of possession battle and failing to get off the field on third downs.
Kwami Jones, whose three early sacks foretold a big day from the pass rush, missed portions of the second half due to cramps.
With Saturday being the first full game-length period of action for the Bulldogs, it was expected things would not go as smoothly as the players and coaches are used to. DeBoer was proud of how his team adjusted during the game, especially considering the lack of time the team spent together due to social distancing restrictions.
“We are learning a brand new style of defense, but I think our communication got better as the game went on,” DeBoer noted. “Our offense will continue to improve drastically as the playmakers continue to come together.”
Fresno State and Hawaii traded field goals to keep it a one-score game in the fourth quarter, but the Warriors went on a game-sealing 12-play, 70 yard drive finished off by Calvin Turner’s second rushing touchdown of the contest.
In his quarterback debut, Jake Haener completed 17-for-31 passes, with 289 passing yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. His counterpart, the redshirt sophomore Chevan Cordeiro, went 20-for-30, with 229 passing yards. Both of Cordeiro’s touchdowns came on the ground, where he rushed for 116 yards on 13 attempts.
Hawaii amassed 258 rushing yards in the game, with the key contributors being Cordeiro, senior Miles Reed (109 yards) and Turner (60 yards, 2 TD). For Fresno State, Ronnie Rivers tallied 79 yards and a score.
The first game of the Kalen DeBoer era served a lesson, and the new Bulldogs head coach believes his players will use it as a springboard for the rest of the season.
“I am encouraged by what I heard on the sideline,” DeBoer said, “that we can rattle off the next seven because of this one loss.”
Fresno State (0-1) welcomes Colorado State (0-0) to Bulldog Stadium next Thursday night. It will be the first game for the Rams, who had their game against New Mexico postponed. Hawaii (1-0) will next travel to Laramie to take on the Wyoming Cowboys Friday night.