POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:18 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010
It was more than a half hour after "The Play" and University of Hawaii slotback Greg Salas looked at his quarterback, Bryant Moniz, and shook a smiling but no longer disbelieving head.
"Nothing ... nothing he does after this will surprise me," Salas proclaimed.
In that Salas could have been the spokesman for all of us in an astonished Aloha Stadium crowd of 40,845 last night after Moniz's fourth-quarter magic act helped drive the Warriors to what a stout defense made hold up as the decisive score in a 27-21 humbling of 19th-ranked and previously unbeaten Nevada.
Revealing, too, as a statement about Moniz. A play in a crucial drive that went beyond mere numbers to reveal a lot about the man behind the controls of the suddenly 5-2 (3-0 conference) and Western Athletic Conference-leading Warriors.
Call it "The Play" — a John Hirokawa-worthy escape and 37-yard pass to Salas that set up the Warriors' final touchdown with 5 minutes, 27 seconds left — because both Nevada and UH did.
"It might have been 'The Play' of the season, offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich said. "The Play" of the game, for sure, acknowledged Nevada defensive end Dontay Moch, who was unable to close the deal for the Wolf Pack.
Tripped and seemingly trapped in the backfield by the onrushing Moch, the reigning WAC defensive player of the year, on first down and 15 at the UH 49-yard line, Moniz somehow — and even he struggled to find the words to explain it — eluded a sack to get off the pass to Salas.
"The Play" was the cornerstone of a remarkable six-play, 57-yard drive, concluded with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Royce Pollard that gave UH a 27-14 lead and, for Moniz, served as a statement-making performance. For all his spinning speedometer-like numbers this season to lead the nation in passing, this was Moniz doing what he had to do on a night when the yards and points, for once, did not come with pinball-like ease.
His statistics for the night — 26-for-36 for 287 yards and three touchdowns — weren't eye-popping, but his play was. It was Moniz at his best while under the most pressure he has faced all season, including four sacks, shaking off earlier struggles, taking over the game to come to the aid of an overworked defense. "He's a very good athlete; the guy made the plays they had to have," Moch said.
This was Moniz, using his head, guile, instinct and athletic ability to make the plays that took down the second WAC renegade in as many weeks while stamping the Warriors as a WAC title contender.
A lot of UH quarterbacks have put up huge numbers, but the great ones — Colt Brennan and Rolovich among them — have made the defining plays in the big games. And, on a night when Brennan was on the sidelines, Moniz made his "bones" too.
"I like him ... a lot," Brennan said. "I'm a fan of his. He is a real football player."
Moniz, who had watched from the television of his Fresno, Calif., apartment in 2007 when the Warriors won close ones at Nevada, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech on the way to the Sugar Bowl, played the role well.
When Nevada closed to 20-14 with 9 minutes, 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors knew they had to answer. "We owed the defense one," Rolovich said.
And Moniz delivered, completing all four passes for 61 yards on a drive twice set back by penalties. His 37-yard pass to Salas ignited the drive, but it took a deft pump and pitch to Alex Green on the perimeter and finding Pollard, the last of his quickly closing passing options, in the end zone for the touchdown to complete the drive.
"It was probably what he needed to gain a little more respect," Rolovich said.
After last night, seeing was, indeed, believing.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.