With all the shenanigans that went into the build-up for Saturday’s matchup between Hawaii and Wyoming, it’s surely going to be one of those games that head coach Nick Rolovich remembers with a wry smile for a long time to come.
What would normally be a fairly regular and casual encounter turned into a chess match with intrigue including a somewhat secretive injury, a true freshman quarterback and even an impostor. With Cole McDonald not practicing early in the week, his status remained a mystery as Saturday grew closer.
In a move that would probably make former Mets manager Bobby Valentine proud, a Hawaii player was out on the field during pre-game warmups in McDonald’s number 13 jersey. Whether or not that caught Wyoming’s eye enough to cause any real confusion isn’t fully clear. But if their eyes were at all keen, they would have realized that McDonald’s blond dreadlocks were not poking out of the bottom of his helmet as they typically would have been.
The sitcom story line was firmly in place, but Hawaii did not use McDonald, nor his body double. They went with Chevan Cordeiro, who made his first collegiate start since entering the Rainbow Warrior program out of Saint Louis. Cordeiro got plenty of reps in the preseason and seemed to be neck and neck with McDonald during camp, but McDonald has shown to this point exactly why he ultimately won the job. Cordeiro had to step in for the nation’s leading passer, a tough ask for any freshman. While the numbers may not have been of the astronomical variety, he showed his pedigree in Hawaii’s comeback win.
The ‘Bows moved to 6-1 on the season, coming back in the final two minutes to earn the 17-13 victory. It helped make all the McDonald midweek and pre-game hijinx seem light and funny, rather than appearing just a little bit desperate. The game-changing play displayed Cordeiro’s potential as he had to change course and improvise a bit. A Wyoming defender jumped the route for his primary receiver, so he managed to pull the ball down pre-release, escaped the pocket and fired a deep ball with another defender about to crash down at his feet.
JoJo Ward elevated to make the grab, giving Hawaii its first and only lead of the night. They may not have led for long, but the ‘Bows battled hard for this victory and have earned everything in all six wins to this point.
Hawaii now sits at 3-0 in Mountain West play — the only MWC team with three conference wins — continuing to display a readiness for immediate contention. This was supposed to still be a rebuilding and evaluation season. But all of a sudden, the West Division title seems like a very reasonable goal.
Despite his late-game heroics, Cordeiro won’t be moved into the starting role full-time. McDonald has done more than enough to make that a moot point, but it’s great to see the young quarterback step up to a challenge when presented to him.
Hawaii now heads to Utah to face a good BYU (3-3) team that is looking to right the ship after back-to-back losses. It’s the biggest test for the ‘Bows to this point and they should have their top QB back in action.
Without any impostors, faux injury reports, wigs or secret codes — I assume — we’ll have to settle for typical weekly college football entertainment. But this Hawaii team is for real and Rolovich has them believing each and every week, no matter the (ridiculous) circumstances.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.