At Aloha Stadium’s midfield, in the full madness following a 59-21 football rout of Nevada-Las Vegas, Hawaii safety Mana Silva raised a championship trophy in celebration.
Then kissed it.
"I always thought about Michael Jordan, and how he always kissed one of his championship trophies," Silva said. "I finally got to do it. Know what? It feels great."
The trophy marked the Warriors’ share of the Western Athletic Conference’s regular-season title. UH, which completed its league schedule the previous week, Boise State and Nevada each finished with a 7-1 WAC record.
More importantly for the Warriors, it was their 10th overall victory in 13 games. They became the fifth UH football team to earn double-digit victories since playing an all-Division I schedule in the mid-1970s.
"This was big for us," said Rodney Bradley, one of 28 UH seniors playing in the team’s final regular-season game. "It puts this team’s name in the history books, along with the other Hawaii teams that won 10 games. This is a reward for our hard work. It gives us momentum for the bowl game."
The Warriors will play Tulsa in the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl.
"We wanted to finish this game off with a bang," said UH quarterback Bryant Moniz, a junior who completed 29 of 43 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored on a 4-yard run and a 1-yard sneak.
During training camp, the Warriors crafted a list of goals.
Earn a berth in a postseason bowl? Check.
Win the WAC’s regular-season title? Check.
Avenge last year’s momentum-shifting loss to UNLV?
"Check," Moniz said. "This was another team we lost to last year, and we wanted to get it back. And we did. In a big way. We had that list of all the teams we had to beat. We worked so hard. We got to cross that one off."
The Warriors did it by dominating every phase. Three of the starting receivers — right wideout Royce Pollard and slotbacks Kealoha Pilares and Greg Salas — caught scoring passes.
The Warriors made key defensive plays, intercepting three passes — including Silva’s record-setting pick in the end zone — and defusing the Rebels’ power running game.
And the Warriors held Marcus Sullivan to 19.8 yards per kickoff return, more than 10 yards below his average in the first 12 games.
"Everybody played great," said long snapper Luke Ingram, who helped down a punt at the UNLV 1. "Offense did great. Defense did great. We had great coverage on kickoffs. We got the 10th win. The seniors seemed happy. It was an awesome night."
The Warriors scored on each of their first five drives, and their first one ended in breathtaking fashion.
Pollard leaped for a pass in the right corner of the end zone, just beyond the reach of two defenders. Resembling a first-class traveler whose chair was in the sleep mode, Pollard extended to make the grab while falling backward onto the FieldTurf.
"You don’t think about it," Pollard said of the acrobatic catch, "it just happens. When the ball is up there, you have to catch it. I have faith. It worked out the way it was supposed to work out."
Michael Johnson’s catch-and-sprint for a 60-yard touchdown tied it at 7, but then the Warriors scored 45 unanswered points to end any suspense.
Moniz made it 14-7 when he looked right, then scrambled to his left, outracing linebacker Ronnie Paulo to the end zone to complete a 4-yard scoring play.
Moniz’s 1-yard sneak capped a 10-play drive.
The Warriors had a menu of options, thanks in part to the Rebels’ strategy of going with three defensive linemen. That left Pollard and Bradley to face single coverage on the outside, and gave extra time for Moniz to find Salas and Pilares on posts, curls, screens and outs.
"The receivers were able to get to open areas," offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich said.
The Warriors also were able to use plays to set up other plays. In the three previous games, all available on video to the Rebels, when the Warriors wanted to call a running play to Alex Green to the left, Salas would motion to the right, serving as a backside blocker. The Warriors showed that look in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Salas motioned to the right, Moniz faked a handoff to Green running to the left, and then Moniz threw to an open Pilares in the end zone.
"They pay me to do that," Rolovich said, smiling.
Later, on another play-action move, Moniz threw to Salas at the end of deep post route for a 54-yard touchdown.
"I was squeezing a little bit on that one, but I got the pass in there," Moniz said. "It was nice."
That was more than enough cushion for the Warriors’ aggressive defense.
This season, the first under a new coaching staff, the Rebels tried to mix in a power running game. The Warriors spent the week studying videos of the game in which Brigham Young held the Rebels to 22 rushing yards.
The strategy? "Hit ’em in the mouth," UH defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu said. "And contain them from going outside."
With the Rebels’ running game idling, they were forced to pass. When Omar Clayton, who threw the winning TD pass against the Warriors last year, is on the move, he creates problems. In the pocket, the result is last night’s three interceptions.
On the first, safety Richard Torres cut in front of a wideout on the right side. "I broke on the ball," he said, "and started drooling."
Silva’s interception in the end was simplified when the receiver stumbled. Silva had been mocked for his, uh, creative running style.
"I finally got a good return," Silva said.
It was his 14th career interception, a UH record.
"I forgot to get the ball," he said. "That would have been a nice souvenir."
For the Warriors, there were other memorable moments. Mike Tinoco, a senior, made his first catch of the season.
And senior linebacker Jake Heun, Greg McMackin’s first recruit, scored on a 3-yard run.
"This was for the seniors," said left tackle Austin Hansen, a junior. "This is for the guys who gave five years of their lives, dedicated 100 percent for this program. That’s 5:30 mornings year ’round. That’s heartbreak. That’s reading stories about how bad you are. That’s working your butt off when nobody believes in you. That’s what this night was all about. And the 10 wins? That’s the bonus on top."