Sunday, April 14, 2024

Lost in paradise

Team blows late 4th-quarter lead; ends year at 5-7

Junior defensive tackle Brandon McKinney, left, junior defensive tackle Domata Peko, center, and sophomore defensive end Cliffton Ryan, right, try to break through to stop Hawaii running back West Keliikipi on Saturday in Honolulu. The Spartans were defeated by the Warriors 41-38. —

Honolulu - The MSU football team could not finish what it started many times this season. That did not change against Hawaii on Saturday night in yet another disappointing game for the Spartans.

MSU (5-7 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) succumbed to Hawaii 41-38, in the last game of a long, frustrating season.

"We don't get to go into the offseason on a good note now; we go into it on a real sour note," head coach John L. Smith said. "And we get to go out this year as losers. So we're a bunch of losers that better become winners."

MSU led for the first 50 minutes of play before the Warriors (7-5) took the lead for good on quarterback Timmy Chang's 1-yard touchdown run with 9:22 remaining in the fourth quarter to make the score 34-31.

The Spartans could have regained the lead on the ensuing kickoff that senior running back DeAndra Cobb returned 98 yards for a touchdown. But a penalty brought the ball back, and MSU instead would have had to drive 49 yards for a touchdown to take back the lead.

The Spartans failed to do so, and the Warriors extended their lead to 10 on their next possession.

The Spartans did cut Hawaii's lead to three points on a touchdown with a minute and a half left in the game. But Hawaii recovered senior place-kicker Dave Rayner's ensuing onside kick to seal the game.

After the game, Smith disagreed with the official's call to bring Cobb's kickoff return back. MSU was penalized 16 times Saturday for 119 yards. Hawaii had five penalties for 35 yards.

Penalties were not MSU's only problem. The Spartans could not maintain any continuity on offense.

The Spartans' touchdown late in the fourth quarter was their only one of the second half. The Spartans, by comparison, scored four first-half touchdowns.

"Maybe we got comfortable," junior running back Jason Teague said of the change in MSU's offense. "We just weren't executing like we were in the first half."

Teague had three rushing touchdowns and 34 yards on 13 carries. Cobb led MSU in rushing with 128 yards on 16 carries and was credited with 111 kickoff return yards.

Hawaii's passing game doomed MSU.

Chang and wide receiver Chad Owens were a thunder-and-lightning combination for the Warriors. Chang's powerful right arm was the thunder, and Owens' speed was the lightning.

Owens caught four touchdowns and 283 of Chang's 416 passing yards.

For as complex as Hawaii's spread offense looked at times, it really was a simple operation, Smith said.

"They ran by us, and they threw the ball to them," he said, adding Owens is "a good player."

Chang was 29-of-49 passing for 416 yards and four touchdowns. With 120 Hawaii rushing yards added on, the Warriors amassed 536 yards of total offense.

The Spartans actually exceeded Hawaii's output with 598 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Drew Stanton was 22-of-32 passing for 330 yards and one touchdown. Ten different Spartans caught at least one pass.

For all the yards Stanton and MSU posted, it didn't translate to enough points on the scoreboard.

After the game, while the Spartans commiserated in their locker room, Hawaii head coach June Jones on the debris-ridden turf of Aloha Stadium accepted a bid to play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

MSU once was considered a likely candidate for a bowl berth, with a 5-5 record and two winnable games remaining, against Penn State and Hawaii.

But the Spartans failed, like they did in other winnable games this season and finished the season with a two-game losing streak and a losing record, just Smith's second as head coach. In 1995, Utah State finished 4-7.

"It's been an up and down season," senior defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. "It's very frustrating because we have the talent to win all the games that we played, to win the big games, to win the close games."

Joe Guillen can be reached at guillenj@msu.edu.

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