POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 5, 2010
The wake-up call came a little late, just after 6 p.m., courtesy of UNLV's Omar Clayton and Michael Johnson.
It still was early enough for No. 25 Hawaii on senior night. The Warriors defense sprang awake following a stunning Rebels score in the first quarter and locked down the visitors of the Mountain West Conference for most of a 59-21 romp at Aloha Stadium.
The Warriors could have been forgiven for hitting the snooze button a couple of times. Here was a UNLV team that limped into the game at 2-10, while UH's berth in the Hawaii Bowl was already assured with a 9-3 record.
With 5:30 left in the first quarter, Clayton hit Johnson with a bullet pass at midfield, and the junior wide receiver caught the Warriors napping. He sidestepped a defender, danced along the right sideline and went in for a 60-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7.
It was like Johnson dunked the groggy Warriors in a stadium-sized tub of ice water.
"It was a little bit of a wake-up call," said junior safety Richard Torres, who had a team-best seven tackles. "We knew they were coming to play. Despite the record, we knew it was a good team. We knew it on film, and that really woke us up and got us saying we had to settle down and play our game."
They most certainly did. UH, which entered the night tied for first nationally in turnovers forced with 33, got back to its ball-hawking roots and picked off Clayton three times from that point. The Rebels' ground game never found traction with just 92 yards.
Torres had a 43-yard interception return, senior safety Mana Silva got his UH career-record 14th pick in the end zone and junior linebacker Corey Paredes continued his defensive MVP ways with an interception off a tipped ball by senior cornerback Jeramy Bryant. He also had a key fourth-down pass breakup in the second quarter.
UNLV scored twice late, but that came against the Warriors' backups.
"We had one, two slip-ups when they scored, but I know the effort's always going to be there in every game, so it's nothing to worry about," junior defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu said. "Of course, they hit us hard with that pass, so we knew we had to tighten some things up. Up front, we always put it on top of ourselves. We had to get our pass rush going and I felt we got better pressure as the game went on."
UH notched only one sack, an audible stick of an unsuspecting Clayton by Torres, but the Warriors' pressure, coupled with alert play in the secondary, got the job done. The Rebels went 10 straight series without scoring, bridging the first to fourth quarters.
"We've had kind of one of those (give-away) drives in a few games this year. Make a couple of mistakes, and make the adjustments," secondary coach Rich Miano said. "Dave (defensive coordinator Aranda) does a great job up there calling the plays. Just gotta hang in there and be patient.
"These guys, it means too much to them to not play well, to not let these seniors go out with a victory. ... It was very important for us to make sure they went out the right way."