San Jose State is a player in the Western Athletic Conference race after a stunning 28-27 victory over defending co-champion Hawaii on Friday night at Spartan Stadium.
One year after staggering through a 1-12 season, the Spartans overcame six turnovers and scored the game-winning points on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Matt Faulkner to Chandler Jones with 36 seconds left.
The TD capped a six-play, 87-yard drive that began with 1:24 left and SJSU trailing 27-22 with no timeouts.
"We kept telling ourselves if we just hold on to the ball we would go down and score," said Faulkner, who had 171 of his career-high 366 passing yards in the fourth quarter.
For Jones, a sophomore wide receiver, it was his third touchdown of game, each coming in a different fashion. He also scored on a 20-yard end around and on a 23-yard return of a fumbled Hawaii kickoff return, helping to give the Spartans a 20-7 halftime lead.
"Absolutely amazing," said Jones, who had scored one touchdown in his college career before Friday. "I caught the ball, and my first thought was to get out of bounds. I made a guy miss and just ran."
The Spartans (3-4, 2-1 WAC) equaled their victory total of the past two seasons combined with their most important win of coach Mike MacIntyre's two-year tenure.
"We actually have a real chance of winning the conference, and that's exciting," MacIntyre said. "These young men can taste it."
"We showed everyone we're
SJSU forced Hawaii (3-3, 1-1) into five first-half turnovers but lost the ball on its first five possessions of the second half to let the visitors take charge.
The Spartans seemed to squander their final chance when running back Brandon Rutley fumbled at the Hawaii 31 after a 25-yard pass play with 2:35 left. But the defense held and provided one more opportunity.
There was no turnover this time, and the Spartans beat Hawaii at home for the first time since 1997.
"Tonight, we could have definitely said 'die,' and we didn't," MacIntyre said. "We beat them ugly. Our players never hung their heads and never thought they were going to lose. Their heart and their mind are together now."
San Jose State converted Hawaii's five first-half giveaways into only 10 points. The Warriors were much less forgiving in the third quarter.
The game, played in front of a season-high crowd of 24,643 on a warm night and an ESPN audience, was an error-filled exhibition featuring 12 turnovers.
But it was a beautiful evening for the Spartans and their fans, who flooded the field afterward.
"It was surreal for our team," Faulkner said. "We've struggled so much. Tonight we got a real good taste of it."
Quarterback Bryant Moniz, overcoming three interceptions, got Hawaii within six points by throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Ostrowski with 6:38 left in the third quarter. He then scrambled 74 yards on a third-and-4 play before allowing 240-pound freshman running back Joey Iosefa to finish things with a 2-yard TD plunge for a 21-20 lead with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
Faulkner's third interception set up a 32-yard TD burst by Iosefa with 11:46 left in the fourth quarter.
But Johnson blocked Kenton Chun's PAT kick, and Duke Ihenacho returned it the distance for a defensive two-point conversion, pulling the Spartans within 27-22. Ihenacho appeared to injure his hamstring on the run but said afterward, "It's nothing serious. I'll be fine."
Hawaii had four turnovers in a span of 6:43 in the second quarter, but the Spartans repeatedly failed to convert.
Kicker Jens Alvernik hit the right upright on a 30-yard field-goal try after SJSU recovered a Hawaii fumble at the 8.
Hawaii answered with an 80-yard drive, taking a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard TD pass from Moniz to Royce Pollard with 2:53 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans drew even on the second play of the second quarter when Jones dashed 20 yards for a touchdown on an end around. Alvernik put SJSU ahead 10-7 by converting a 32-yard field goal with 10:46 left in the half, but the mayhem had not yet begun.
Peyton Thompson's apparent 70-yard TD return of an interception was wiped out by a personal foul call against Bene Benwikere.
Moniz, who had thrown 152 consecutive passes without an interception, was picked off again on his next attempt by safety James Orth. The Spartans got three points this time for a 13-7 lead after a 19-yard field goal by Alvernik with 4:10 left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, San Jose State's Cullen Newsome drilled Hawaii return man Scott Harding, who fumbled at the 23. Jones scooped up the ball and ran into the end zone. With 4:01 left in the half, the Spartans led 20-7.