UH presents Tulsa with six turnovers in the first half, two returned for TDs
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 25, 2010
In what was the eve of self-destruction, the Hawaii football team could not overcome the weight of six first-half turnovers in a 62-35 loss to Tulsa yesterday in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Before a crowd of 41,089, the short-handed Warriors -- playing without four offensive starters -- ended their season in defeat for the fourth consecutive year.
The No. 24 Warriors fell to 10-4, and surely will be stripped of their national ranking when the polls close after the BCS title game.
"This will sit in our stomach for a while," said UH quarterback Bryant Moniz, who threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted four times -- one pick was returned for a touchdown -- and sacked six times.
On a second-quarter sack, Moniz landed with a thud on his left side. He suffered a hip pointer that kept him from playing in two series, and left him in discomfort the rest of the game.
"I was trying to stretch on the sidelines, anything to get my hip loose," Moniz said.
At least Moniz was able to play. Three offensive players -- left wideout Rodney Bradley, left tackle Austin Hansen and left guard Brysen "Bula" Ginlack -- confirmed they were ruled ineligible for the game. They declined to cite reasons.
And after Tulsa's opening drive stalled, slotback Kealoha Pilares tried to return a low-arcing punt. Pilares made the catch, but was hit immediately. He said he injured his left knee -- the extent will not be know until after an MRI is taken -- and did not play after that.
"We definitely missed Kealoha," said left slotback Greg Salas, who caught 13 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. "He's a big part of our offense. He's an explosive playmaker. He's done it all season. It affected our chemistry."
In the first half, the Warriors were having problems, with turnovers staking the Golden Hurricane to a 27-14 lead at the intermission.
Right cornerback John Flanders and linebacker Curnelius Arnick each scored on back-to-back, 54-yard interception returns.
On Flanders' pick, Shane Austin, who had filled in for Moniz, was struck by defensive end Tyrunn Walker while trying to throw the ball out of bounds.
"We were playing, man, and he just lobbed it up," Flanders said. "Big T hit him, and I returned it. I was happy to make a play."
Austin said: "I was trying to throw it away. I think I had Salas up the seam, but I lost sight of him, and moved on. I tried to throw it out of bounds, but I didn't get enough on it. Their guy was in my face. But I have to do better. This one was on me. That's the way it goes sometimes."
And it went that way on UH's ensuing possession, when Arnick produced a deja-vu return.
"I faked like I was coming, and the quarterback threw it straight to me. After that, it was straight to the end zone," Arnick said.
But for all of the Warriors' first-half problems, they managed to close to six points twice in the third quarter -- at 27-21 on Salas' 5-yard corner route, and 34-28 on Alex Green's 1-yard run on an inside-zone play.
But for each UH rally, Tulsa responded, and 5-foot-6 Damaris Johnson's DNA was found at every scene.
With Tulsa leading 27-21, Johnson motioned to the left side, caught a screen pass in the flat, then cut to the right for a 59-yard gain to the UH 15. On the next play, G.J. Kinne fired a pass to Jameel Owens in the end zone.
When it was 34-28, Johnson got the ball on a fly sweep and raced 67 yards for a touchdown.
Johnson capped the scoring with a 9-yard pass from Kinne with 1:16 to play.
"I knew I had to step up my game," said Johnson, a junior who is the NCAA's career leader in kickoff return yards. "Hawaii has a great team, and we had to play a great game to win."
Entering the game, the Tulsa coaches were concerned about Hawaii's humidity. Indeed, with a rainstorm approaching, it was a muggy night in Halawa.
"I'm from Louisiana, so I was OK," Johnson said. "We have a lot of humidity there. It was hot, but our guys persevered, and came through with the win."
Johnson saved his best return for last.
"I'm going to come back (to Tulsa) next year," said Johnson, when asked if he would relinquish his senior season to apply for the National Football League Draft.
The Warriors, meanwhile, were trying to find answers to a defense that held Tulsa to 95 yards in the first half, but surrendered 436 yards in the final two quarters.
"We handled their speed in the first half," associate head coach Rich Miano said. "In the third quarter, they had three momentum plays when our offense was starting to get back into the groove. We needed to make a stop, and we didn't. That's the frustrating thing."
UH linebacker Corey Paredes said: "It was a weird game. It's hard to explain what happened. We came up short. The defense kicked in the first half, and then was kicked in the second half."
The Warriors' offense, meanwhile, struggled to find rhythm.
Moniz said Tulsa, switching between man schemes and a four-deep zone, defended the routes and not necessarily the receivers.
"They were on all of our routes," Moniz said. "They were cutting it. They knew our offense. They made some great plays. They were getting good pressure up front. They were jumping the lanes. I wasn't able to read them."
Right wideout Royce Pollard said Bradley and Pilares were missed.
"I felt we were a unit with them," Pollard said. "Nothing against the guys stepping in, but it's a rhythm we had. We didn't execute, and we needed to execute more. There were pieces that were missing."
In the hush of the UH locker room after the game, Salas hugged teammates. Salas departed last night for his home in Chino, Calif.
"Losing that last game is tough," Salas said. "We wanted to go out with a win, and be the team to be remembered. We didn't get it."