Rams late rally comes up short as they fall to Hawaii in season-opener

Eddie Herz

It was too little, too late for the Colorado State Rams in their season-opener against Hawaii at Canvas Stadium on Friday evening.

CSU’s late attempt at an improbable comeback came up just short as the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors fended off the Rams 43-34 to open the 2018 season.

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The Rams trailed Hawaii by a wide margin, 37-7, in the closing minutes of the third quarter. The Rams cut the deficit to as little as six with 4:42 remaining, but failed to take the lead. 

Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald, who was not the official starter when fall camp ended, dominated his first collegiate start. McDonald threw for 418 yards and tossed three touchdowns while also burning the Rams on the ground. The redshirt sophomore rushed for 96 yards and into the end zone twice.

“We had no pressure on the quarterback at all,” coach Mike Bobo said. “We never made him feel uncomfortable. When you don’t make a quarterback feel uncomfortable, it’s easy for him to get into a rhythm.”

Though the 17-point favorite, the Rams stormed back late while Hawaii controlled the majority of the game.

McDonald led a quick 75-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown to begin the game, while CSU and K.J. Carta-Samuels, who led the Rams,  responded effectively with a touchdown drive of their own.  

Carta-Samuels showcased his accuracy and the Rams’ lethal receiver core on the opening drive. The graduate transfer from Washington completed 7-10 passes for 70 yards and capped the first offensive drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Olabisi Johnson.

But the Rainbow Warriors hit their stride just as quickly. Carta-Samuels was intercepted on the following drive by underthrowing Johnson significantly while being hit. The mistake resulted in a temporary funk for CSU’s quarterback. The Rams failed to score on their next six drives.

Hawaii took a 23-7 lead into the locker room after scoring the final 16 points of the first half. Mcdonald and Hawaii kept it rolling the begin the second half as well.

Mcdonald hit Cedric Byrd for a 55-yard score to give the Rainbow Warriors a 37-7 lead with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter. Byrd effortlessly blew right by freshman safety Quinn Brinnon and jogged into the end zone untouched. The play summed up CSU’s defensive performance and seemingly put the game on ice.

That is when Carta-Samuels and the Rams finally woke up.

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CSU scored 14 points in a minute and 12 seconds, cutting Hawaii’s lead to 37-20 with eight seconds left in the third quarter. Carta-Samuels connected with Preston Williams from seven yards out and then found Johnson for a 58-yard touchdown respectively.

Williams struck once again with a little over eight minutes left in the game by scoring from 26 yards out. Izzy Matthews then muscled his way into the end zone on a short pass to trim Hawaii’s lead to 40-34 with 4:41 remaining in the game.

But the Rams could not come up with a defensive stop when they needed it. The Rainbow Warriors split the uprights from 35 yards out with 44 seconds left to put the nail in the coffin.

Through the loss, CSU displayed two consistent qualities from last season: offensive dominance and defensive incompetence.

Carta-Samuels broke the program’s single-game passing record by throwing for 537 yards. The graduate transfer completed 68 percent of his passes and threw for five touchdowns as well.

“I think when your back is against the wall and you’re down three touchdowns or whatever, you’re not thinking about anything anymore,” Carta-Samuels said. “You are just simply laying it on the line.”

Williams, another player making his CSU debut, developed significant chemistry with Carta-Samuels. Williams was targeted 15 times and made nine receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Williams’ performance was highlighted by a 69-yard catch and run, in which he aggressively flew past defenders.

Johnson reeled in six grabs for 157 yards and scored two touchdowns of his own as well. 

“I’m excited for the future to come,” Johnson said. “This game proved what we had at receiver. We will continue to tear up defenses.”

Defensively, CSU had no answers for a Hawaii offense that seemed to pose a minor threat going in. After all, besides McDonald making his first career start, the Rainbow Warriors lost their leading rusher and second-leading receiver from last season.

Nonetheless, the Rams were no match for Hawaii’s “run-and-gun” offense as McDonald put forth a commanding performance.

“It’s just disappointing that we once again had to rely on our offense to put up big numbers,” safety Jordan Fogal said. “We hurt ourselves a lot tonight.”

The loss is not ideal for CSU. The Rams will have to play The University of Colorado next week coming off of a short week of practice. However, Carta-Samuels believes the resilience his team showed is extremely beneficial and says a lot about his team.

“The silver lining, on some level, is that this is our first true test and this is some adversity that we faced,” Carta-Samuels said.

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.