POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 4, 2010
Each football season, it seems, there is a defining game.
For Hawaii, it was last year's meeting against Nevada-Las Vegas in Sin City.
The Warriors, who won their first two games of 2009, were in a football shootout. In the closing minutes, the Warriors dropped an interception, and the Rebels went on to win, 36-34, when 6-foot-3 Phillip Payne soared to make a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone with 36 seconds left.
It was the first of six consecutive losses for the Warriors, but also the start of the learning process. The Warriors worked on correcting the elements that led to that loss.
Lametrius Davis, a physical cornerback, entered the lineup as a bump-and-run defender.
The Warriors defenders worked on pass-catching drills. This season, the Warriors have the second-most interceptions among FBS schools -- 20, all in the past nine games. They lead the nation with 33 takeaways.
They also are ranked 23rd (out of 120 FBS teams) in red-zone defense.
And they signed a tall, Payne-like wideout, Darius Bright, who is redshirting this season, to help in jump-ball situations.
For tonight's nonconference rematch, the 2010 regular-season finale for both teams, the Warriors are hopeful this can turn into another defining game.
The 9-3 Warriors have a chance to reach double-digit victories for the fourth time in the program's history, impress the recruits who will be on the sideline, and generate enthusiasm entering the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl.
"All we're thinking is: Just win," UH quarterback Bryant Moniz said.
The Warriors, ranked No. 25 by the Associated Press, already have clinched a share of the Western Athletic Conference title. They can win it outright if Boise State and Nevada both lose today.
"We just want to get (victory) No. 10," Moniz said. "That would be the reward for the hard work we've put in. A 10-win season hasn't been done too much. It's hard to come by at any level."
Moniz said that also would be a fitting present for the seniors. Twenty-eight UH players will participate in the senior walk after the game, including slotbacks Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, running back Alex Green, four of the five starting offensive linemen, and four key defensive backs.
"It went really fast," said right tackle Laupepa Letuli, a sixth-year senior. He was awarded a medical exemption that allowed him to play this season.
Letuli, right guard Adrian Thomas and left guard Brysen "Bula" Ginlack were 2005 high school graduates.
Thomas was raised in Australia, where summer there is winter here, and his school term ended in December. He joined the Warriors in January 2006.
That also was the same time Ginlack enrolled at UH. Ginlack, a Kahuku High graduate, was a grayshirt.
"These seniors have helped us on the field, and we've tried to help them off the field," associate head coach Rich Miano said.
During the past three years, money was raised to allow every football player to attend summer school, a bridge session was established in the summer, and the tutorial program was expanded.
"With the resources we have, everyone should be able to graduate," Miano said.
Five UH seniors already have earned their degrees, and the rest are on track to graduate.