WEST POINT, N.Y. » With miracle-by-the-Hudson theatrics, the University of Hawaii yesterday willed its way to a pulsating 31-28 football victory over Army.
With an emotion-based back story — the game was played on the U.S. Military Academy’s campus on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — it was the Warriors who scripted a storybook finish.
With Army positioning for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, the momentum shifted in a New York moment. The Warriors forced a fumble with 24 seconds left, were awarded possession after a lengthy review, then drove 59 yards on two Bryant Moniz passes and a penalty to set up Scott Enos’ decisive 31-yard field goal with7 seconds left.
"I think somebody up above was watching us, and they didn’t want the Warriors to be 0-2," said UH associate head coach Rich Miano, whose team evened its record at 1-1.
"I wasn’t worried at all," said Enos, who is perfect on four field-goal attempts this year. "Right when I hit it, I knew it was going through."
Enos had an uneven season in 2009, his first as a Warrior. But he retained the starting job with a solid training camp. He is the only UH kicker on the travel roster for this 13-day trip, which concludes with next weekend’s game against Colorado.
"You only need one kicker if you have the right kicker," UH head coach Greg McMackin said. "He’s the right guy. He does the right things."
It appeared the Warriors, who entered as surprising 3-point underdogs, made all of the right moves in speeding to a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Army’s double-eagle defense — a 5-2 blitzing scheme — was no match for Moniz, who was winging it in the Warriors’ opposite-field attack. In UH’s four-wide offense, if the ball is on, say, the right hashmark, three receivers will be aligned to the left. The vulnerability of the Black Knights’ defense is that it often has single coverage on two of the wide-side receivers.
Moniz took advantage of that defect, firing scoring passes of 26 yards to right wideout Royce Pollard, 11 to left wideout Rodney Bradley and 48 to right slotback Kealoha Pilares. Moniz finished 25-for-36 for 343 yards without an interception.
Meanwhile, the Warriors were able to slow Army’s triple-option running attack, which features the fullback dive, the quarterback rush and the pitch to a trailing tailback. The Warriors used a 4-4 scheme in which safeties Spencer Smith and Mana Silva were used as bracket linebackers assigned to narrowing the Black Knights’ offense.
But then, as the poets would describe it, everything changed gradually and then suddenly. It began when Smith suffered a fractured right forearm when he landed awkwardly.
Beginning in the second quarter, Army changed its offensive and defensive schemes.
Because the Warriors were effective against the triple-option, Army "stopped running the option," UH defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.
The Black Knights turned to a formation they did not use before — "the twins," in which there are two receivers to one side, one on the other side and two backs. They also ran power-blocking plays, fly sweeps (in which an in-motion receiver takes the handoff on a misdirection route) and play-action passes.
On defense, the Black Knights switched from a five-man front to a 4-2-5 scheme. The reasoning, according to Army coach Rich Ellerson, was to create a pass rush with four linemen, allowing the Black Knights to drop another defender into pass coverage. In particular, defensive end Joshua McNary was disruptive with his ferocious pass-rushes.
"They changed up our fronts, giving us a little harder time," Moniz said. "We had less time to let the long routes develop. We had to get the ball out shorter."
The Warriors had fewer opportunities. During a 19-minute stretch from the second quarter to the middle of the third, Army had possession for 15 minutes, 46 seconds. Two UH possessions short-circuited because of lost fumbles — one by linebacker Mana Lolotai on a pooch kickoff, the other when McNary stripped the football from Moniz.
Army scored 28 points in a row, all on rushing touchdowns, to seize a 28-21 lead with 5:35 remaining in the third quarter.
After the Warriors tied it on Alex Green’s 3-yard run, the Black Knights had two chances to regain the lead.
The first was exterminated when UH freshman John Hardy-Tuliau blocked Alex Carlton’s field-goal attempt from 37 yards.
UH ran an isolation play in which maneuvering allowed Hardy-Tuliau to align on the left of Carlton. "We created a short edge, then brought him from the short edge," said Chris Tormey, who coaches UH’s special teams.
"I told the guys I was going to get it," Hardy-Tuliau said. "I didn’t even feel (the block) because of the adrenaline."
A possession later, the Black Knights advanced to the UH 28. Then Max Jenkins, an injury replacement for starting quarterback Trent Steelman, took the snap and glided to his left. Defensive end Kamalu Umu hit Jenkins, who fumbled.
Silva, who was back at safety, recovered the football. "I just jumped on it," he said. "I held it like it was a newborn baby."
After a review, the Warriors were awarded possession, at their 27, with 24 seconds remaining. They were out of timeouts.
As the offense was about to take the field, Pollard, the right wideout, reminded offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich of a play he suggested at halftime … and in the first quarter … and during warm-ups.
"He wanted to run (the hitch-and-go)," Rolovich said of a pattern in which Pollard runs about 8 yards, makes a stutter-step to the outside, then sprints upfield.
Rolovich relented — to half the request.
Pollard ran the "hitch" portion, catching a pass and stepping across the sideline, where he was hit by linebacker Steve Erzinger. The 15-yard penalty advanced the ball to the Army 45.
From there, Rolovich signaled for the hitch-and-go play. Pollard ran about 8 yards, baiting cornerback Antuan Aaron to move up. Pollard then ran downfield, catching Moniz’s pass. The 31-yard gain moved the line of scrimmage to the 14.
McMackin ordered Moniz to spike the ball to stop the clock. Enos then was summoned.
"I’ve been visualizing this since last week," Enos said.
Long snapper Luke Ingram recalled thinking: "I tried to stay as calm as I could."
Holder Shane Austin said: "I was a little nervous. Catch. Hold. That’s all I was thinking. We just said, ‘Make it,’ and he did. He listened to us."
Enos’ ensuing kickoff was fielded by Justin Schaaf at the Army 31. Schaaf ran 3 yards before being hit by UH’s Kenny Estes, and fumbling. UH’s Jordan Gomes recovered as time expired, triggering a UH celebration.
"Football never ceases to amaze you," Miano said. "It was so exciting, it stops your heart. There were so many changes in emotion. We were up early, and then they got the momentum. And we finally make a play at the end and get the ball back. We worked for 59 minutes and didn’t get any turnovers. And we get our turnover in the 60th minute. That’s amazing."