Either being lost in emotion or failing to accurately assess the situation led to Hawaii going for a point-after kick instead of a 2-point conversion following a touchdown that gave it a 26-14 lead with 5:27 to play in Saturday’s upset of then-No. 19 Nevada.
The decision was amplified after the Wolf Pack scored a touchdown to close to 27-21 with 3:06 left and then recovered the onside kick. When a touchdown extends a lead to 12 points late in the game, the usual strategy is to go for two to make it a 14-point cushion.
An interception by Warriors safety Mana Silva preserved the six-point victory, but had the Wolf Pack scored and won 28-27, the decision would have been difficult to explain for UH head coach Greg McMackin.
"We thought about that and considered that, and we didn’t, and won the game," McMackin said, side-stepping his reasoning. "We don’t worry about it any more."
When pressed, he said, "You can figure out how the thing comes out. Maybe we should have (gone for 2). Maybe we shouldn’t have. But we won the game, so we don’t have to worry about it now. We can move on."
Kickoff return questioned
Upon further review, the Hawaii football coaches believe that a key kickoff return should have been negated.
Mike Ball‘s 84-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter gave the Wolf Pack possession at the UH 14, setting up a touchdown that cut the deficit to 20-14 with 9:30 to play.
"On the kickoff return, they tackled three guys," McMackin said of the Wolf Pack’s blockers.
In fact, two videos of the play — one shot from the makai sideline, the other from the end zone — show that two Warriors were held, opening a gap for Ball.
The Warriors protested that the Wolf Pack should have been called for numerous holding penalties during the game. McMackin said he even took the unique step of calling a pregame meeting with officials, showing seven video clips of the Pack’s blocking techniques.
"Some teams seem to get more penalties than other teams," said McMackin, who then amended his comments by adding, "I think it’s a tough job being an official. I’m not knocking officials. They were very cordial."
But UH kicker Scott Enos took the blame for the long return, saying he placed the kick in the middle of the field instead of the outside of the right hashmark.
"It was a mistake," Enos said, adding, "it put our defense in a horrible spot."
No fair catch allowed
Nevada regained possession with 3:06 remaining when it successfully recovered an onside kick.
Chris Tormey, who coordinates UH’s special teams, said the Warriors could not call for a fair catch on the play. At first glance, it appeared the kick lofted directly to a Nevada player. In reviewing the video, it was noted the Ricky Drake‘s kick struck the ground and bounced high in the air. A receiving team is not allowed to fair catch a bouncing kick.
Tormey said the play was difficult to defend because the Wolf Pack aligned a kicker on each side of the tee.
"They forced you to cover both sides," Tormey said.
McMackin said: "It was the best onside kick I’ve ever seen."