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Sunday, August 31, 2003



[UH FOOTBALL]



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RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
"Every day I hear how great he is and how he's the best. ... He played a great game, he made some huge plays. He's a great receiver." --Jason Whieldon, Hawaii quarterback on Jeremiah Cockheran.



Just warming up

Jason Whieldon fills in nicely
for Tim Chang as Hawaii rolls
past Appalachian State in opener


It's hard to call a college football game a warm-up, an exhibition, a practice. There's just too much effort expended by the players and the coaches, so much sweat and trainer's tape and aspirin and blood. And the games are so rare, just 13 or 14 Saturdays each year.

They are cherished -- even the blowouts and mismatches -- by the participants.

Hawaii's 40-17 season-opening demolition of Division I-AA Appalachian State at Aloha Stadium does count as a victory, and any coach will tell you how hard those are to come by. Also most of the 36,844 in attendance enjoyed it as much as they would have if the opponent were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I would never consider a game a warm-up. Especially because they showed heart, coming back a little like they did," said UH junior Chad Owens, who accounted for 177 yards in receiving, rushing and returns last night.

It certainly was the real thing for Hawaii slot receiver Nate Ilaoa and cornerback Abraham Elimimian, two starters who left the game with injuries. Ilaoa has a sprained knee and Elimimian a strained shoulder. It is not known yet when they will return.

Still, when put in the context of the Warriors' battles to come, this really was a dress rehearsal. Even more so than UH's schedule-starting wins against Montana and Eastern Illinois the past two seasons.

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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii wide receiver Jeremiah Cockheran made a fingertip catch last night during the first quarter in front of Appalachian State defenders Michael King and Jay Lyles. Cockheran scored three touchdowns.



The real thing begins in two weeks at USC, and continues as UH tries to live up to the expectations of itself and others by winning the Western Athletic Conference championship.

"USC took Auburn and just kicked their butts," Hawaii coach June Jones said.

"We tried to get a lot of players in the game, not just because of the lead but to really try and get a feel for who our best 11 are," he added. "Overall, I think we came out winners, but we still have some work to do. The bye week will help us prepare for USC."

Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga's thoughts also quickly went ahead to the Trojans.

"(Appalachian State) played hard, but they were kind of a small-time team," Sopoaga said. "When we get to USC, that will be different."

But if this were practice, practice was perfect, at least for one quarter, for Jason Whieldon.

Whieldon completed his first eight passes, and UH jumped to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. The glorified scrimmage was over as quickly as it had started.

Whieldon, subbing for suspended starting quarterback Tim Chang, completed 21 passes in 35 attempts for 359 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He did it operating behind an offensive line missing four of its five starters from the previous season.

"We were just trying to get the W, and we did that," he said. "It's still the first game, and we still have a lot of improvement to do."

Jeremiah Cockheran was his favorite target. Whieldon found his housemate seven times for 154 yards and all three passing touchdowns.

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RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Leonard Peters, top, and Chad Kapanui brought down Appalachian State's Sterling Hayward in the second quarter last night.



UH's defense was also dominant at times, especially early. The Warriors yielded only 47 yards in the first quarter, while the run-and-shoot chomped up the new FieldTurf to the tune of 227. The total numbers for the game were 259 for ASU and 450 for Hawaii.

Hawaii opened the scoring five plays into the game when John West took a handoff from Whieldon and ran in from 13 yards out, capping a five-play drive that featured a 35-yard pass from Whieldon to Cockheran on the first play from scrimmage.

"Jason made plays early and did what he has to do to win the game," Jones said. "He saw things early and we executed well, too."

The Mountaineers couldn't do anything with their first possession, and the Warriors took over on their own 29.

Whieldon then completed three consecutive passes -- to Ilaoa (41 yards), Michael Brewster (12) and Cockheran for the final 18 on a beautiful timing pattern that made the Mountaineers look silly. UH led 14-0 at 5 minutes, 37 seconds into the season.

It was Whieldon to Cockheran again two series later, as the senior co-captain made a catch reminiscent of former UH great Ashley Lelie between two befuddled defenders. The play went for 54 yards and the Warriors' 21-0 lead with 50 seconds left in the first quarter seemed insurmountable.

And it was.

"Hawaii is a very skilled football team and they're well coached," Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore said. "They create a lot of mismatches.

"They have highly skilled receivers, a great field-goal kicker, a great return guy, a great punter, and a great scheme. It's sure hard to beat their system."

Appalachian State did get on the board with a 24-yard Erik Rockhold field goal at 11:31 of the second quarter, but that was quickly upstaged by Justin Ayat's booming 48-yarder at 9:52. It only counted for three points, too, but it was symbolic of the difference between the teams.

Cockheran scored again on a 35-yarder from Whieldon with 6:20 left in the third quarter, after ASU scored on an 8-yard pass from Richie Williams to Zach Johnson and Ayat made a 36-yard field goal.

The Mountaineers tried to get back in the game with a 46-yard TD pass to DaVon Fowlkes from Williams with 11 seconds left in the third quarter.

But the Warriors responded quickly again, as Ross Dickerson returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to complete the scoring.

"He's electrifying, and he does that in our scrimmages," Jones said.

The defense had big plays, too. End Travis LaBoy had two tackles for loss. He, linebacker Chad Kalilimoku, tackle Abu Ma'afala and safety David Gilmore each contributed a sack. UH allowed 12 first downs and two were by penalty.

"We couldn't block the two tackles inside," Moore said, referring to Sopoaga and Lance Samuseva.

"I felt like we played a good game, not a great game," said senior safety Hyrum Peters, who intercepted a pass and led Hawaii with nine tackles. "We wanted a shutout. We did some good stuff, but we did some bad stuff. The thing I liked is we swarmed on defense."

Williams finished with 11 completions in 20 attempts for 132 yards, the two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 37 yards.



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