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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt outlasts Hawaii 35-28 in season opener

The Commodores opened their season with a 35-28 win over Hawaii led by three touchdown passes from AJ Swann.
Vanderbilt+and+Hawaii+on+the+line+of+scrimmage+on+August+26%2C+2023+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FNikita+Rohila%29.
Nikita Rohila
Vanderbilt and Hawaii on the line of scrimmage on August 26, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).

The Vanderbilt Commodores opened their season on Saturday with a 35-28 win over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at FirstBank Stadium. While the Commodore defense was shaky at times, a couple of key interceptions sealed the win.

“It was a sloppy game,” head coach Clark Lea said in his postgame press conference. “We were fortunate to come away with a win.”

It was a rematch of last season’s opener in Honolulu, which Vanderbilt won 63-10. The start of the game was delayed by more than 90 minutes due to lightning strikes, and the rain continued well into the first half. Before the game, a moment of silence was held for the victims of the wildfires in Hawaii.

The Commodores got off to a perfect start, forcing a quick three-and-out on Hawaii’s first possession. Vanderbilt took over on the Rainbow Warriors’ 32-yard line due to a shanked punt that went zero yards and scored on a 21-yard pass from AJ Swann to junior running back Patrick Smith. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, Vanderbilt was up 6-0.

Hawaii responded with a scoring drive of their own led by quarterback Brayden Schager. The Rainbow Warriors gained 75 yards on eight plays, culminating in a touchdown pass to Steven McBride. Vanderbilt’s Jayden McGowan immediately responded by returning the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, followed by a successful two-point conversion from Swann to Quincy Skinner Jr. that put the Commodores up 14-7.

The Commodores marched down the field on their next drive for 84 yards on eight plays, ending in a touchdown pass from Swann to wide receiver Will Sheppard on the first play of the second quarter. This time, Lea elected to kick the extra point, which Jacob Borcila knocked through. Hawaii again responded with a touchdown, cutting through the Vanderbilt pass defense for 68 yards on five plays.

Midway through the second quarter, Hawaii drove the ball all the way to the half-yard line, even having a touchdown overturned by replay. After the Rainbow Warriors committed a false start on first down, Schager’s pass was intercepted by Vanderbilt’s De’Rickey Wright in the end zone, with Wright stretching to get his toe down in bounds. After both teams punted on their next possessions, the Commodores took a 21-14 lead into halftime.

The Commodores added to their advantage in the third quarter, scoring on a 1-yard reception from Swann to Sheppard. They scored again early in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard pass from Swann to freshman wide receiver London Humphreys on a free play, putting the Commodores up 35-14.

Hawaii cut the deficit back to two possessions with a touchdown reception by Pofele Ashlock, and scored again on their next drive to draw within seven.

The Rainbow Warriors attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered out of bounds to give Vanderbilt the ball. The Commodores were only able to take two minutes off the clock, leaving Hawaii with over two minutes to mount a potential game-tying drive. However, Wright recorded his second interception of the game to ice the 35-28 win.

Vanderbilt recorded 302 yards, led by 258 passing yards by Swann with three passing touchdowns. Sheppard was the Commodores’ leading receiver with 68 yards on eight targets with two touchdowns. While the Commodore defense came up with a few big moments, the Vanderbilt pass defense was far too susceptible to the deep ball. Schager threw for 351 yards, and Hawaii recorded nine plays of 15 yards or more.

“I want to see a certain style of play for an entire 60 minutes, and I thought we weren’t able to do that today,” Lea said. “Game day is hard.”

The Commodores will return to action on Saturday, Sept. 2 for a 6 p.m. game against Alabama A&M at FirstBank Stadium.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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