Despite a rough first half, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs used a big second half to defeat the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl.
The first half was dominated by defense, with Hawaii leading 7-3 at the break. The late part of the second quarter was also marred by a number of penalties and some pushing and shoving. However, Tech dominated the second half to pull away and win their fifth straight bowl game.
Before the game kicked off, it was announced that each team would be without a star offensive player. Hawaii’s leading receiver, John Ursua, was ruled out with injury. Tech’s best offensive lineman, O’Shea Dugas, did not make the trip due to a violation of team rules.
After trading punts for a few possessions, Tech struck first with a Bailey Hale field goal. However, Louisiana Tech turned the ball over in each of its next three possessions.
The first came after J’Mar Smith found Adrian Hardy in Hawaii territory, but he had the ball stripped after the catch. Hawaii would capitalize as Chevan Cordeiro found Jason-Matthew Sharsh for a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead. Smith would throw an interception and lose a fumble on the next two possessions, but the Bulldog defense held strong to keep the deficit to four at halftime.
The late goings of the first half got chippy, and four unsportmanlike conduct penalties were called against Hawaii. Each was against a different player, so no ejections were assessed.
Louisiana Tech pulled out some tricks to open the second half and faked a punt in their own territory. Hawaii wasn’t fooled, however, and the Warriors took over in prime field position. Fortunately for La Tech, Jordan Baldwin would intercept a pass from Cordeiro to get the ball back.
Shortly afterward, Smith would find Teddy Veal downfield to get Tech into the red zone. Israel Tucker would score the first Bulldog touchdown one play later.
The Bulldogs would score touchdowns on their next two possessions to take a commanding 24-7 lead. Amik Robertson would intercept passes on the next two Hawaii possessions to keep the lead intact.
A fourth quarter punt block and touchdown from Hawaii would make it interesting, but Kam McKnight scored on the next drive to put the game out of reach.
Hawaii started quarterback Cole McDonald, as usual. However, Cordeiro would enter on Hawaii’s fourth drive to try and jump start the Warriors’ offense. The two would be swapped back and forth for the rest of the game as Hawaii looked for an answer to the stifling Tech defense.
The Louisiana Tech defense dominated this game, with both of Hawaii’s touchdowns coming after turnovers. Robertson had two interceptions, and Willie Baker recorded four sacks.
All eyes were on Jaylon Ferguson, however. “Sack Daddy” needed just 2.0 sacks to pass Terrell Suggs for the all-time FBS sack record. He would record 2.5 to finish his career at 45 sacks, the same number as he wears on his jersey. Ferguson stands alone atop the career sack list, and he won Hawaii Bowl MVP honors for his efforts.
Louisiana Tech’s 31-14 victory is significant for multiple reasons. Skip Holtz has led the Bulldogs to a bowl game for five consecutive seasons, and Tech has won all five bowls. This was also Tech’s first-ever victory in Aloha Stadium, as the Bulldogs were previously 0-5 against the Rainbow Warriors in Hawaii from their days as conference rivals in the WAC.
Louisiana Tech’s win also means that Conference USA finishes bowl season 4-2 despite an 0-2 start.
Louisiana Tech finishes its season at 8-5. Despite fading in November, the Bulldogs once again played some of their best ball in the postseason. Although Holtz hasn’t yet brought a conference title to Ruston, he has won five bowl trophies at a program that had just two before he arrived.
He’s also 1-0 against Hawaii, which Tech fans will enjoy.