The No. 14 Boise State football team checked a major box for the first time Saturday in its 59-37 win over Hawaii.
The Broncos go into every game with a goal of forcing three turnovers. With the Mountain West Conference’s top passing attack in town, they did that and then some.
Boise State turned three fumbles into 21 points in the first half and, with the game well in hand, graduate transfer Khafari Buffalo snagged an interception in the end zone as the clock on the scoreboard showed all zeros.
“You get that many turnovers on the defensive side, regardless of their offense and the points they put on the board and all that, and you’re going to win the game,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “And the way they attacked the football tonight, that was impressive. To me, the key is you’ve got multiple players on our side around the ball and able to go out and get it.”
Hawaii native Kekaula Kaniho was the first Bronco to successfully attack the ball. He ended the Rainbow Warriors’ second drive of the game after fighting off a blocker with his left hand while managing to get his right on the ball and rip it out of Cedric Byrd II’s grasp.
The turnover set up Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier’s only touchdown pass of an injury-shortened night, which was a perfectly placed 26-yard strike over the outside shoulder of wide receiver John Hightower, who beat his man off the line and gave the Broncos (6-0 overall, 3-0 Mountain West) a 14-0 lead.
“We knew we wanted to start fast as a defense and a team and hit our takeaway mark,” Kaniho said. “I was just trying to make a play on the ball and I got my hand on there pretty good. And when I ripped it, it kind of just fell into my lap.”
Boise State STUD Curtis Weaver got in on the act in the second quarter. He got to Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald just as he was releasing a pass. It went beyond the line of scrimmage and defensive back Kekoa Nawahhine fell on the ball. The play was reviewed and the fumble call was upheld.
Weaver still isn’t totally sold that it was a fumble, but the end result was a 33-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Chase Cord to Khalil Shakir for a 24-7 lead with 5:52 left in the first half. McDonald doesn’t think it was a fumble, either.
“We were playing against Boise and the refs, but it doesn’t matter. We have to play through it,” McDonald said, according to The Associated Press. “We were in it in the first half and it’s just capitalizing off mistakes and taking care of the ball. If we’re not dropping the ball and fumbling it, I feel like it would’ve been a different story.”
With the game already threatening to get out of hand, the Broncos had one forced turnover left in them before halftime. After Hawaii receiver Jared Smart caught a short pass and disappeared into a pile, Boise State linebacker Benton Wickersham delivered a shot that dislodged the ball and linebacker Riley Whimpey pounced on it on the Warriors’ 29.
The ensuing drive ended with Hightower taking a snap and handing off to Robert Mahone, who found the end zone from 13 yards out to give the Broncos a 31-7 lead. They went into halftime up 31-14.
“It was really good for us to attack the ball and be physical in our finishes because we knew that they would catch some passes in front of us,” Kaniho said.
Bachmeier (3-for-9, 58 yards, TD) was injured in the second quarter when he scrambled and took a hit, which dislodged the ball, leading to Boise State’s only turnover of the night. He didn’t return to the game, but his backups fared well.
Cord finished 12-for-18 for 175 yards and three touchdowns. He followed his scoring strike to Shakir with a 42-yard shot to Hightower, who finished the game with season highs in receptions (seven), receiving yards (141) and receiving touchdowns (two). Cord also flipped the ball to Holani at the end of the third quarter and watched him lower his shoulder and drive through a tackler for a 52-21 lead.
Third-string quarterback Jaylon Henderson (6-for-10, 82 yards, TD) even got in on the action. He tossed an 8-yard touchdown to Holani, who made a couple tacklers miss before diving for the pylon on a 25-yard catch and score.
“Chase has good command when he gets in there, I think that shows,” Harsin said. “I like what Jaylon did, what Chase did. Hank’s going to be fine moving forward, but those guys are ready to go.”
The 37 points Hawaii (4-2, 1-1 MWC) scored and the 438 yards of offense it put up were the most Boise State has given up all season, and McDonald finished the game 23-of-41 for 251 yards and three touchdowns, but the win keeps the Broncos as one of three unbeaten Group of Five teams in the country. Appalachian State and SMU are the other two.
Boise State is on the road next Saturday for another 8:15 p.m. kickoff at BYU.