POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 25, 2010
Walking off the field for the final time this season, one Hawaii player repeatedly asked aloud, "What just happened?"
The unwanted answer for Hawaii fans was a motivated Tulsa team beating the hometown favorite at its own game, combining big plays on offense with a ball-hawking defense that forced six turnovers in a 62-35 win over the Warriors last night in the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
The Golden Hurricane were such underdogs that ESPN analyst Todd McShay picked Hawaii over Tulsa as his most confident bowl pick of the season.
Three minutes in, Alex Singleton scored one play after a Bryant Moniz interception, and Tulsa never trailed on its way to demolishing the Warriors, who were a double-digit favorite at game time.
"(There was) a lot of talk going in that we were picked as the lock to get beat (in bowl games), and this football team did a great job of preparing," Tulsa coach Todd Graham said.
Tulsa's most-maligned unit coming in was a defensive secondary that allowed more than 300 passing yards a game.
Hawaii finished with 479 yards in the air, but that statistic was meaningless thanks to five interceptions, including two picks by junior linebacker Curnelius Arnick.
"I can't speak for everyone, but me, personally, I was very motivated hearing people talk about our defense," Arnick said. "We had a lot of time to prepare and study for this game and it came down to making the plays when they were there."
Arnick, the team's leading tackler, did it again with a team-high 10 tackles and two sacks. But his biggest contribution was the two interceptions that matched his career total.
Not only were they drive-killing picks for Hawaii, but Arnick made them twice as painful, returning one 54 yards for a score and another 52 yards to the Hawaii 3, setting up an easy touchdown run.
"Our offense carried us a lot this year, scoring a lot of points, so it was a good feeling to be able to help them out," Arnick said.
Despite forcing six turnovers, Tulsa only led 27-21 after Hawaii scored on its opening possession of the second half.
The Golden Hurricanehad been held to 94 total yards to that point before rattling off 206 yards and three touchdowns on their next six plays.
Damaris Johnson, whose 7,796 all-purpose yards in a career is an NCAA record, caught a 59-yard pass and ran for a 67-yard touchdown during that span.
He finished with 326 all-purpose yards in the game, including a 9-yard touchdown catch with 1:16 remaining to put the final touches on Tulsa's third consecutive 10-win season.
"We came (to Hawaii) and played pretty good and now we've got this 8-hour flight home," Johnson said. "I'll be thinking about getting a little sleep in."
Johnson, Arnick and quarterback G.J. Kinne, who finished 17-for-31 for 343 yards and three touchdowns, are three of 17 returning starters next year for a Tulsa squad that could end the season ranked in the Top 25.
"I think we can be really good, definitely Top 25," Kinne said. "Our goal every year is to win (Conference USA) and that's something we're really going to harp on next year."