Yes, the eye-rubbing numbers were scattered, like Aloha Stadium’s FieldTurf granules, in Hawaii’s 41-21 football victory over Louisiana Tech last night.
Yes, the Warriors hit the jackpot with their double slots — with right slotback Kealoha Pilares catching a school-record 18 passes (for 217 yards), and bookend Greg Salas, whose previous mark Pilares surpassed, pulling in 10 catches for 197 yards. Each had two touchdown receptions.
And, yes, Bryant Moniz was the Xbox factor, completing 42 of 58 passes for 532 yards and four touchdowns as part of the Warriors’ video-game-like 647 yards of offense.
But — no doubt — the defining moments in this Western Athletic Conference opener came in a plot-twisting stretch in the fourth quarter.
With the Warriors leading 34-21, Moniz shoveled a pass to running back Alex Green. On the pirouette, Green was hit by defensive end Matt Broha, fumbled, and LaTech nickel back Tank Calais recovered at the 50.
"I don’t know what happened," Green said. "They made a good play, I guess."
As Green walked dejectedly toward the sideline, he crossed a wave of determined teammates.
"They told me not to worry, they would get the ball back," Green recalled.
It was a bold promise for a defense that was playing to exhaustion against a no-huddle, no-pause offense led by their third — and most successful — quarterback of the night. Ross Jenkins had started 21 consecutive games through the season opener. But Colby Cameron started the next three games, and Tarik Hakmi was in the opening lineup last night.
With Jenkins at the controls — and in a shotgun formation, with his heels 5 1/2 yards from the line of scrimmage — the Warriors had difficulty creating an effective pass rush. Jenkins would either feed an off-set running back or, off a three-step drop, throw a screen pass. Since entering late in the second quarter, Jenkins directed three Bulldogs touchdowns drives.
"When we showed pressure, they checked screens," UH defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "It was a whole kind of Indiana Jones booby-trap thing to get to the quarterback."
After the Bulldogs advanced to the UH 29, Jenkins fired a pass across the middle. UH linebacker Corey Paredes made a leaping tip of the pass that landed softly into cornerback Jeramy Bryant’s hands for the interception.
Paredes’ vertical jump? He invoked the don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy.
"I choose not to mention it," Paredes said, smiling.
He added: "I’ve got linebacker hands. In high school, I had receiver hands. The best thing I could do was tip it."
Bryant said: "Corey will always be the guy. But that was a gift-wrapped present. I think that’s what we needed."
The Warriors then drove to the LaTech 29, from where Moniz had his choice of slots.
Moniz hit Salas at the end of a skinny-post route. Salas eluded two defenders at the 20 and raced to the end zone for the suspense-ending touchdown.
"You have to keep working," Salas said. "I never want to go down, especially by one person. I’m just going to keep moving my legs until somebody brings me down."
Salas was just as defiant on his first scoring play, when he caught a pass at the 15, eluded a defender at the 10, and stumble-ran into the end zone.
"You have to have the will to keep fighting," Salas said.
That scoring play came on the Warriors’ first drive of the second half, and it was a quick response to Louisiana Tech’s opening touchdown. It also derived from the Warriors’ new five-wide, empty-backfield formation.
"We call it ’empty,’ but I like Hawaii Five-O," said UH offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, who implemented the scheme last week.
Rolovich said reserve slotback Dustin Blount deserved an opportunity to play. With the four receiver positions filled, Rolovich decided to replace the lone back with a third slotback.
"It works well within our package," Rolovich said. "We don’t have to change any routes. We don’t have to change any reads. It’s just what it is. I like it."
The scheme, though, puts added pressure on UH’s offensive linemen, who don’t have the benefit of Green’s backfield blocking. The Bulldogs countered by spreading 10 players across the line, with a nickel back playing 3 yards deep.
"It was like a full-court press in basketball," Moniz said.
And the same strategy in beating the press was applicable against the Bulldogs’ 10-men-in-the-box strategy: Hit the open man.
"We just needed to give Mo a little time," UH left tackle Laupepa Letuli said, "and Mo and the receivers could do the rest."
The Warriors’ five-wide offense gave a jolt to what is usually a slow second-half start, and it built on the clutch play of the receivers, particularly Pilares.
Last year, Pilares struggled after moving from right slotback to left wideout as the injury replacement for Rodney Bradley. Last week, Bradley suffered a strained hamstring that would keep him from playing last night. This time, the Warriors decided to keep Pilares at slotback, instead starting Billy Ray Stutzmann at left wideout.
After a nervous first series, Stutzmann caught five passes for 60 yards. And Pilares responded with a breakout performance.
Pilares’ best play was a hitch pattern, in which he caught a pass near the right sideline, juked a safety at the 49, and ran the rest of the way for a 66-yard touchdown.
"It’s all about setting him up," Pilares said. "He thought I was going to cut back in. I was five steps ahead of him. I knew where I was going to go."
After the game, Salas pretended to be hurt about losing the record, then smiled, and patted Pilares’ back.
"He’s worked super hard," Salas said. "He deserves everything he gets. It’s fun when both of us are out there making plays."
Pilares said: "It feels great. All of the hours put in the offseason, watching films, dreaming about this … it’s nice, but we have a lot more games left. This was just the first WAC game."