In the final minute of the homecoming football game Friday night, SJSU senior quarterback Matt Faulkner connected on a touchdown pass with sophomore wide receiver Chandler Jones to come from behind and defeat the Hawaii Warriors, 28-27.
"What a night for our young men," said SJSU head coach Mike MacIntyre. "To have the crowd we had there tonight, on ESPN national television, the student body there … it was just a magical night I think for San Jose State."
MacIntyre credited this victory to his team’s “never-say-die attitude.”
In the possession before the game-winning drive, SJSU senior running back Brandon Rutley fumbled, resulting in SJSU's sixth turnover of the second half.
With their lead intact, Hawaii took over with 2:35 left in the game.
“I knew if we stopped them, we’d get it back. I really felt like we’d score,” MacIntyre said. “(They) really hadn’t stopped us all night — we stopped ourselves.”
SJSU had a rough start as they allowed Faulkner to be sacked twice in the first quarter.
The Spartans also could not capitalize on a turnover on Hawaii’s 8-yard line as senior kicker Jens Alvernik hit the upright and missed a 30-yard field goal attempt, but they came back strong and started the second quarter with a 20-yard touchdown reverse play by Jones.
Jones’ rushing touchdown was one of three that he scored in the game — one rushing, one on a fumble return on special teams, and the game-winning touchdown catch.
“It was kind of like a cycle,” he said.
Jones said he and the other receivers knew their offense needed to make big plays and he felt “blessed” to have played as well as he did, especially on national television.
SJSU’s defense played well in the first half as they pressured Hawaii senior quarterback Bryant Moniz, recording one sack and two interceptions.
SJSU finished the first half leading 20-7, but the lead could have been larger if not for a key play being taken away by a penalty.
An interception returned for a touchdown by junior cornerback Peyton Thompson was taken away as sophomore defensive back Bené Benwikere was called for a personal foul and the ball was brought back to SJSU’s 19-yard line.
SJSU’s resolve was tested as they started the second half with five consecutive turnovers, three of which came from interceptions thrown by Faulkner.
“We had so much going against us,” he said. “We did not expect or plan on that happening.”
Faulkner said he agreed with coach MacIntyre, saying the team stopped themselves.
He said despite playing poorly in the second half, the offense continued to encourage each other, saying if they could hold on to the ball and execute, they could score.
Hawaii capitalized on SJSU’s turnovers and scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to lead SJSU 21-20.
One came from a 19-yard pass from Moniz to junior slot receiver Jeremiah Ostrowski and the other came from a 2-yard run from freshman running back Joey Iosefa.
Hawaii scored again to begin the fourth quarter as Iosefa ran for a 32-yard touchdown.
However, the extra point attempt was blocked by junior defensive end Travis Johnson and senior safety Duke Ihenacho scooped the ball up and ran it all the way to the other end of the field to score a defensive extra point, making the score 27-22.
MacIntyre said the play was crucial because it gave SJSU the extra point needed to ultimately defeat Hawaii.
“If he doesn’t gut through that, and a lot of people would not gut through that, we do not win that football game,” MacIntyre said.
During the return, Ihenacho appeared to have injured himself and limped off the field after the play.
“I was contemplating going out of bounds, but you know I didn’t see anybody in front of me,” Ihenacho said. “I just willed myself to the end zone.”
He said he wasn’t sure whether it was a cramp or he pulled his hamstring, but said it was nothing serious and he will be fine.
Later in the fourth quarter, Hawaii kicker Tyler Hadden attempted a 42-yard field goal, but was blocked again by Johnson.
Johnson said he had never blocked a kick before and it was great to block two in one game.
With 1:24 left in the fourth quarter, SJSU got the ball on their own 13-yard line.
Faulkner completed three passes to sophomore wide receiver Noel Grigsby, the longest going for 21 yards.
Grigsby finished the game with 12 catches for 126 yards.
Then, Spartan Stadium turned into bedlam as SJSU fans cheered when Faulkner completed a pass to Jones for a 37-yard touchdown to take a 28-27 lead with 36 seconds left in the game.
After SJSU failed a two-point conversion, Hawaii got the ball back at their own 15-yard line.
Hawaii could not come back as Moniz attempted one last deep throw to the end zone that fell incomplete as time expired.
Fans then flooded the field in celebration.
Faulkner said celebrating on the field with the fans was “surreal.”
“We’ve struggled so much,” Faulkner said. “It’s what we’ve desired where we want to get, and tonight we got a real good taste of it.”
MacIntyre said the team was especially motivated after seeing a packed tailgating area and seeing the fans walking along 10th Street toward the stadium.
He said they don’t normally drive down 10th Street, but were forced to because of traffic and now the team wants to take that route from now on.
“It took them to another level,” MacIntyre said. “People were waving at us going down the street and that meant a lot to our young men.”
Both teams had trouble holding on to the ball as they both committed six turnovers.
“You don’t want to win a game like that with six turnovers,” Faulkner said. “But if you can win a game and still have six turnovers, I think that says a lot about your team and how (we) know how to fight back.”
Johnson said the team has changed since last year and the wins are proof.
“It shows that San Jose State isn’t the old San Jose State,” Johnson said. “We’re a whole new team, a whole new program. You know we’re coming.”