Bryan Harsin and the Boise State football team will have plenty of time in the coming days to dissect the tackling issues and what went wrong in the second half.
For now it was all about celebrating the final score.
The Broncos let a big lead slip away in the second half but hung on for a 40-32 win over Hawaii at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu in a game that ended at nearly 1 a.m. Sunday back in Boise.
Neither a six-hour flight the night before or more than a dozen players out due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols were enough to stop the Broncos, who built a 33-9 lead in the third quarter before bad tackling and subpar defense allowed Hawaii to make things interesting in the final minutes.
“You’ll look at plenty of things we need to clean up but any time you win a game on a trip like this and in an environment like this, I’m really proud of those guys,” Harsin said. “Every win is something we can learn from, but it’s powerful. They should feel like they accomplished something. They should feel proud of themselves.
“To make this travel and this trip and do it differently than we have before - Hawaii is tough when you come and play them on the island but we found a way to win.”
Andrew Van Buren rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns and Avery Williams scored on a 99-yard kick return for the Broncos (4-1, 4-0 MW), who remained undefeated in Mountain West play ahead of a crucial game with undefeated San Jose State next Saturday in Boise.
Boise State typically travels to Hawaii on Thursday for a Saturday game to allow players an extra day to recover from the long flight and acclimate to the 3-hour time change.
But in the COVID-era of 2020, the Broncos were forced to wait until Friday afternoon to fly to Honolulu and touched down roughly 24 hours prior to kickoff. Their meals consisted of boxed lunches and they were mostly confined to their hotel rooms during the short stay.
After a slow start offensively the Broncos got things rolling - thanks in part to Williams' spark on special teams - and opened up what appeared to be a commanding 33-9 lead midway through the third quarter.
Hawaii stormed back with three of the next four touchdowns and cut the deficit to 40-32 with 4:52 to play, but the Broncos kept the ball and ran out the clock to leave the island with a hard-earned win.
“We mentioned that we were going to be in the air longer than we were going to actually be on the ground for the game,” Shakir said of the 12-hours of round trip flight time. “We always go with a Swat Team mentality – get in, get the job done and get out and go back home and that’s what we did tonight.
“A win is a win, regardless of how close it was. We’ll celebrate that on the flight and then tomorrow we’re back to work. Obviously it could have been a (bigger win) but at the end of the day we still got the win and I’m proud of this team for how we rallied at the end and finished strong.”
Hank Bachmeier passed for 278 yards and a touchdown while Shakir finished with 11 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
With the game not starting until after 9 p.m. in Boise, many fans probably turned off the TV and went to bed once the Broncos built the big lead. They woke up Sunday realizing they missed quite the finish.
Boise State was without 12 players due to COVID-19 protocols, including seven that were out due to positive tests and five for contact tracing.
Running back George Holani, right tackle Nick Crabtree and quarterback Jack Sears also missed the game for undisclosed reasons.
Boise State lost the turnover battle and was nearly outgained for the second straight game before chewing up the clock on the final drive.
It was the 10th straight Mountain West road win for the Broncos dating back to 2018. They also won for the 123rd straight time when leading after the third quarter.
“It’s rewarding to come all this way and get a hard win against a great team,” Williams said. “It says a lot about this team and our character and ability to overcome adversity. It’s not easy to fly seven hours here and seven hours back just to play a three-hour game and with changing the conditions completely and the adversity within our team, it just shows how much heart we have.”
Jonah Dalmas opened the scoring for Boise State with a pair of field goals and the Broncos led 6-3 early in the second quarter. Dalmas, a true freshman from Rocky Mountain High School, was put on scholarship earlier in the week.
Bachmeier then connected with Shakir for a 38-yard touchdown with 5:12 left in the half, but the extra point was blocked and the Broncos led 12-3.
Boise State used some trickery to add to the lead just before the half. CT Thomas took a handoff from Bachmeier and ran to the left before passing the ball to a wide open Shakir in the end zone to make it 19-3 with 54 seconds left.
After Hawaii scored on a 1-yard run from Calvin Turner to start the third quarter, Boise State answered with a 99-yard kick return touchdown from Williams to go up 26-9.
Williams also had three punt returns for 72 yards to set the offense up with great field position.
“Special teams was the dagger tonight,” Harsin said. “I think there’s belief on special teams that we can make plays and change the game. … We needed momentum, we needed something on special teams to help us open this game up a little bit and that’s exactly what happened.”
Van Buren added an 11-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 33-9 with 8:18 left in the third quarter and it appeared the rout was on.
But Hawaii responded with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Chevan Cordeiro to Turner, and Turner scored on a 2-point conversion run to make it 33-17 with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter.
Van Buren added another 11-yard touchdown run to push Boise State's lead to 40-17 late in the third quarter, but Hawaii answered with a pair of touchdowns and a 2-point conversion to get within 8 at 40-32 with 4:52 left.
Boise State didn't let them get any closer. Bachmeier converted a key third down with a scramble and the Broncos were able to kneel the ball and run out the clock.
A near six-hour flight wasn't scheduled to put the Broncos back in Boise until around 9 a.m. and they had to go right to the facility upon arrival for the next round of COVID tests.
They were scheduled to get a few hours off after that to go home and rest before regrouping later in the afternoon for a light practice and film study.
It was a long 40 hours for the Broncos, but they won the game - and that made it all worth it.
“I’m really proud of our guys and our team. We don’t make excuses. We know exactly what we’re getting into each week and guys have been rising to the occasion. Guys are stepping up,” Harsin said. “I think it says a lot about the character of the guys on this team that they will work through all that and still find ways to finish a game and win.
“There were a lot of games that were canceled but we were playing. We understand we have an opportunity to play, it was a long trip and there was nothing easy about it, but we still found a way to win the game. I think that says a lot about the players and the coaches that they keep finding ways to solve the problems we have on a daily basis.”