FRESNO, Calif. » The University of Hawaii likes to think of itself as a football team that gives no quarter, which is why third quarters were getting, well, painfully ridiculous.
After giving away too many of them, the Warriors finally said enough last night and said it loudly, too.
Where they said it was in, of all places, the first quarter to set the tone early in a 49-27 thumping of Fresno State.
"Hey, I’m an old defensive guy and we were going to go with the defense on the field first if we won the coin flip (to start the game) and defer to the second half," head coach Greg McMackin said. "We were out to change our luck."
Turning things over to the defense for the first time since the Boise State game of midseason last year, the Warriors got a defensive stop to start the game and a 21-point third quarter to carry them to a third consecutive victory and a 4-2 record.
On a night when they said "aloha" to Bulldog Stadium in their last Western Athletic Conference appearance there, it was hard to tell which was most satisfying to these Warriors, slapping around the Mountain West Conference-bound renegades in front of 38,494 red-clad faithful or finally breaking through on the third-quarter hex.
"Both," said assistant coach Mouse Davis. "Gotta love it."
In four games against major college opposition this year, UH had been outscored 67-27 in the third quarter. Only against Charleston Southern of the Football Championship Subdivision did the Warriors win a third quarter, and that was just 7-0.
So here, nearing the halfway point of the season, some improvement was clearly in order if the Warriors were going to stay on a roll. Instead of putting the nation’s most productive passing attack on the field first, as has been the Warriors’ custom, "Greg (McMackin) said he wanted to do it a little different this time," said offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. "He wanted to let the defense take the field first, if we won the toss."
Of course Davis noted, "Usually when you decide something like that before the game you know what happens, right? You lose the darn coin toss."
Indeed, that had, until last night, been precisely the kind of luck and execution that had dogged the Warriors.
Only this time the Warriors won the toss and then sent their defense out on a mission.
"We wanted to make a statement," said linebacker Corey Paredes. "We wanted to set the tempo from the start."
Consider the message sent with UH forcing a punt on the first series.
"That got us fired up," receiver Greg Salas said.
It didn’t slow down a defense either, one that held the Bulldogs to a single touchdown (and two field goals) until the final 1:34 of the third quarter.
Still, it required UH’s first offensive series of the third quarter to underline the swing of fortunes. And, not leaving anything to chance, the Warriors also left their locker room earlier than usual to warm up more than had been their norm.
That’s when it looked like the first thing that could go wrong for UH in the second half just might. Quarterback Bryant Moniz’s 19-yard pass to Royce Pollard went smoothly right up until the point where Pollard fumbled at the goal line. It looked, for several anxious seconds — and an official’s replay — as if the Warriors might be haunted by third-quarter horrors again.
But Salas recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
"I’ve had some easy ones where I was wide open but never one like that," Salas acknowledged. "Thanks, Royce."
On a night when the Warriors finally got their long-awaited third quarter breakthrough, there would be thanks bestowed all around.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.