Honolulu, Hawaii ----- The big plays were there on offense. The defense made some key stops. And, for the first time in five years, there was a San Jose State touchdown on a kickoff return.
Still, the Spartans needed more in a 37-26 loss to Hawaii.
Montel Aaron returned to action for the first time since the September 16 game at Utah as San Jose State's starting quarterback. The Spartans (1-7, 0-4 Mountain West) had gone three consecutive games without producing a play of at least 20 yards either on the ground or in the air.
Aaron triggered the offense and by the end of the game connected with five different teammates on long gainers. The longest was a 59-yard touchdown strike to Rahshead Johnson who would finish with three touchdowns in the game.
In his first game back, the redshirt freshman was 17-of-27 with an interception for 322 yards and two touchdowns. The interception was on a 3rd-and-goal from the Hawaii 6-yard line with the Spartans facing a 21-13 third-quarter deficit.
The defense set the tone for the start of the game that bore similarities to the season-opener vs. nationally-ranked USF. A Diocemy Saint-Juste fumble on Hawaii's second offensive play of the game turned into a Bryce Crawford 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
San Jose State lengthened its first lead in a game since September 2 on its next possession as Aaron lofted a pass over a Hawaii defender and into the arms of Johnson for a 10-0 advantage.
Hawaii (3-4, 1-3 Mountain West) relied heavily on Saint-Juste to take the lead. A 1-yard run capped a 75-yard drive that chewed up 6:35 on the clock. Two drives later, Saint-Juste carried five times for 47 yards in an 83-yard drive capped by back-up quarterback Cole McDonald finding Dakota Torres in the end zone from 4 yards out for a 14-10 lead. Sainte-Juste would finish the game crossing the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 202 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries.
Crawford's second field goal of the game, a 52-yarder into a breeze with no time left, was his second field goal of the game and close out the first half scoring at 14-13. It would be the first of three times the Spartans would trail by two points or less the rest of the way. A Hawaii personal foul was a big part of that scoring drive.
Overall, penalties figured into the outcome. San Jose State was set back 11 times for a season-high 104 yards. Nine of those penalties came in the second half. A false start on the Hawaii 1-yard line and the second of two offensive pass interference calls on the drive preceded Aaron's one interception in the game.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Johnson's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown proved to be disastrous. The Spartans needed to convert a 35-yard extra-point try to close to a 28-26 deficit, but Hawaii came up with its fifth blocked kick of the season and Rojesterman Farris II turned the play into two points for a 30-26 Hawaii lead.
Johnson's kickoff return was set up by a terrific block by Thai Cottrell, perhaps the smallest player on the field. Cottrell's block in front of the Spartan sideline gave Johnson a chance to turn the corner and head for the end zone unchallenged.
San Jose State finished the game with a season-high 504 yards of total offense compared to Hawai'I's 451. The Spartans passed for a season-best 381 with Josh Love completing 4-of-6 for 59 yards after Aaron departed briefly after getting sent to the turf in the Spartans end zone on an incomplete pass.
The Spartans have a bye week and return to action, Saturday, October 28 at BYU. Game time will be announced on Monday, October 16.