Commentary

Backup QB Graunke keeps Hawaii in BCS hunt; sets up Boise battle

Updated: November 17, 2007, 8:01 AM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

RENO, Nev. -- When you're more than 2,300 miles from the U.S. mainland, it's easy to keep a secret from the rest of the college football world.

[+] EnlargeTyler Graunke
AP Photo/Cathleen AllisonHawaii QB Tyler Graunke held onto the Rainbows' dream of a BCS bid.

While the rest of the country figured Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan would be ready to go in Friday night's game at Nevada, backup Tyler Graunke knew he'd have to keep the No. 16 Warriors' undefeated season and BCS hopes alive against the Wolf Pack.

With Brennan still recovering from a concussion that knocked him out cold in last week's 37-30 win against Fresno State, Hawaii coach June Jones took few chances with his team's Heisman Trophy hopeful.

Brennan threw only two passes against the Wolf Pack, leaving Graunke to direct a game-winning drive in the final 2:16 of a 28-26 victory over Nevada at Mackay Stadium.

"We just wanted to keep it a secret," Brennan said. "We didn't want to give Nevada a whole week to prepare knowing that I wasn't going to play. The whole goal was to make it seem like I could play and I might play, and you never really know what could happen as the game goes on. If the game had gone a different direction, maybe I would have got in there more. But because Tyler was playing so well, we decided to let him stick it out."

Graunke, a junior from Tucson, Ariz., completed 33 of 46 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. He completed seven passes for 61 yards on the game-winning drive, including a 13-yarder to Ryan Grice-Mullen on third-and-6 that put the Warriors in field-goal position with 1:04 left.

Junior Dan Kelly had to make a 45-yard field goal twice -- his first successful attempt came after Nevada coach Chris Ault called a late timeout -- to complete the come-from-behind victory with 11.7 seconds left.

The victory improved Hawaii's record to 10-0 for the first time since 1925, matching the best start in school history. The Warriors' 11-game winning streak in the longest in the country.

"I was ready the whole week because I knew concussions are a touchy thing," Graunke said. "My second year, Colt came in and I've been behind him ever since. I knew I was going to get my shot and next year would be my year."

Graunke's opportunity to be the hero came sooner than expected. Hawaii announced earlier in the week that Brennan had been medically cleared to play against Nevada. Jones said Brennan would be a game-time decision, but all indications pointed to the senior quarterback playing against the Wolf Pack.

Brennan did play against Nevada, completing a seven-yard pass on Hawaii's second play and a 14-yarder on the first play of the Warriors' third possession. But Brennan didn't play again, and Graunke went the rest of the way after Jones used three quarterbacks (sophomore Inoke Funaki ran two quarterback draws in the first series) to start the game.

"I just wanted him to get in and throw a couple of passes," Jones said of Brennan. "I knew the tight passes were throws he could make without getting hit. I knew he wasn't going to get hit on those two passes."

Jones said Hawaii's doctors didn't want Brennan to play against Nevada because he was more vulnerable to suffering a second concussion in the two weeks after the initial injury.

"It was a big decision, but he had more at stake personally if he did get another [concussion]," Jones said. "He has much more at stake."

And Hawaii will have much more at stake when No. 18 Boise State goes to the island to play the Warriors at Aloha Stadium on Nov. 23 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

He's sat around the last three years just watching and being humble and being a great team player. For him to get this opportunity and do what he did, I couldn't be more proud of him.

--Hawaii QB Colt Brennan on Tyler Graunke

The winner will claim the WAC championship and will remain in the hunt for a lucrative BCS at-large berth. The Broncos or Warriors can claim an automatic BCS berth if they finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or if they finish in the top 16 and are ranked higher than a champion of one of the conferences that receives an automatic berth (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC).

Brennan said he'll be ready to play against the Broncos, who beat the Warriors in high-scoring shootouts in each of the last two seasons.

"That's the great thing," Brennan said. "Now that I didn't have to play and didn't take any shots, we all know I'm 100 percent going into next week. I can go out there and put my head down and have fun and play football."

Brennan needs only one more touchdown pass to break former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer's NCAA Division I-A career record of 121. Brennan's streak of 34 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, which was one shy of Detmer's NCAA record, came to an end.

But, more importantly, Hawaii's dream season remained intact, thanks to Graunke.

"I can't be more proud for him because this is the first big win of his career," Brennan said. "He's sat around the last three years just watching and being humble and being a great team player. For him to get this opportunity and do what he did, I couldn't be more proud of him."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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