The Warriors make a statement with a win over the Wolf Pack
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:16 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010
In the unabashed celebration of a pulsating 27-21 upset of nationally ranked Nevada, the Hawaii football team raised a metaphorical glass to toast the moment.
"This," defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu said in a euphoric locker room, "was for all of our doubters. We can play some damn good football. Nevada came in ranked 19th, but we played as one. That's the most important number."
Bryant Moniz threw three scoring passes, including an 11-yarder to Royce Pollard with 5:27 to play, but it was the Warriors defense that sealed the outcome with play-to-exhaustion grit.
The Wolf Pack, which entered unbeaten in their first six games, closed to 27-21 on Colin Kaepernick's 10-yard pass to Mike Ball with 3:06 to play. The Pack then recovered the ensuing on-side kick at their 43. Five plays later, from the UH 35, Kaepernick threw toward Brandon Wimberly at the end of a post route.
But safety Richard Torres deflected the pass, which floated toward safety Mana Silva.
"It was like an angel ready to fall," Silva said of the game-clinching interception. "With gravity, it fell right into my hands."
Silva described the turnover as a "glimpse of heaven."
Silva ran about 8 yards before falling softly to the Aloha Stadium FieldTurf.
"I saw (associate head) coach (Rich) Miano tell me to go down," Silva said. "I didn't want to lose the ball. It was no time to be a hero. I decided to go down for the team."
As the clocked ticked down on the Warriors' fourth consecutive victory, the emotions started to build.
"It was definitely a big game for us," said slotback Greg Salas, whose Warriors remained atop the Western Athletic Conference with a 3-0 record. "It keeps our hopes alive for a WAC championship. We're trying to prove some people wrong. We're trying to command some respect."
In preseason polls, the Warriors were predicted to finish in the bottom third of the nine-team WAC. The Wolf Pack, meanwhile, have been trumpeted as one of the league's elite teams. Nevada is one of three WAC schools set to secede and join the Mountain West Conference.
Nevada entered with one of the most prolific running attacks in the nation, averaging 314 rushing yards per game. As two-thirds of a trio to each rush for 1,000 yards last season, Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua will be featured in a display at the College Football Hall of Fame.
What's more, the Pack's double-dive offense — the pistol — was created by its head coach, and emulated by several schools across the country.
"They're an awesome team with awesome players," said UH slotback Kealoha Pilares, who caught two scoring passes in the first quarter to stake the Warriors to a 14-0 lead. "We wanted to prove we were a good team, too."
The Warriors did it by disarming the pistol with a power surge from the defensive line. The strategy was this: Squeeze the width of Nevada's offense with pressure from the defensive ends, then use the defensive tackles to clog the running lanes.
"The coaches told us (Nevada's) O-line was the weak point," UH defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga said. "The ends did a great job of squeezing down. That left (the defensive tackles) one on one. All we had to do was beat our guy."
Nevada was held to 134 yards rushing. Taua, who entered as the WAC's rushing leader, had 91 yards, but only 4 in the final quarter.
Kaepernick, nicknamed "Avatar" because of his multipurpose talents, managed 30 rushing yards. He also had two costly fumbles.
During the Pack's second possession of the game, Kaepernick ran to his left on a keeper. But linebacker Corey Paredes knocked the ball free, and cornerback Jeramy Bryant recovered at the Nevada 19. Two plays later, Moniz and Pilares teamed on a 6-yard scoring pass for a 7-0 UH lead. It was the first time the Pack had trailed all season.
In the third quarter, down 17-0, Kaepernick scrambled along the left sideline and was poised to complete a 10-yard scoring run. But at the 1, Paredes knocked the football from Kaepernick's grip. The ball entered the end zone and, after the officials consulted, it was ruled a touchback.
"I thought he was going to get in, and I ran as fast as I could," Paredes said. "He 'Hollywood-ed' it. He was holding the ball with one hand. Luckily it was the near hand. I got there, and knocked the ball out, and they called it a touchback. ... If I'm making a tackle and I have a hand on the football, the ball is coming out."
Helped by two long returns — Rishard Matthews' 42-yarder on a punt, Ball's 84-yarder on a kickoff — the Pack set up two short touchdown drives to close to 20-14 with 9:30 to play.
On the sideline, the UH offense gathered around offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich.
"We knew we had to get into the end zone," running back Alex Green said. "By any means. We were going to bust our butts to get into the end zone. Mo said as much in the huddle."
Moniz said: "There were two drives (in the second half) where we came away with nothing. It was important to get some points, and give our defense a cushion. We needed seven."
Jordan Monico fielded a pooch kick, and returned it to the 43. Three snaps later, after an illegal-procedure penalty, the Warriors faced a first and 15 from their 49. Moniz took the shotgun snap, but was quickly grabbed by defensive end Dontay Moch, who reportedly can run 40 yards in under 4.2 seconds. Moch had sacked Moniz twice, but this time Moniz proved to be too elusive, escaping twice. Moniz then threw to Salas, who maneuvered past linebacker Brandon Marshall for a 37-yard gain.
"I saw Mo scrambling and I broke my route off," Salas said. "Mo did a hell of a job staying alive. When I see him scrambling, I flow the way he's flowing, and luckily it worked out for us."
Moniz said: "I just refused to go down. I saw (Moch) coming most of the night. I wasn't able to get away. They were able to do a good job. I was able to get away on that play."
Three plays later, from the 11, Moniz went to his second option — Pollard — on a post pattern. Pollard secured the pass a foot past the goal line.
"I knew I wasn't going to let my hand mess up on that one," Pollard said. "I knew I had to catch it. When I saw it in the air, I knew it was mine."
All that was left was for the defense to provide the dramatic finish.
"We wanted to make a statement," Tuipulotu said. "I think we did that."