Rice serves Hawaii
CAN you feel the love?
Forget love. Feel the relief.
Feel the win.
"It makes you feel better than the alternative, that's for sure," June Jones said last night.
OK, forget that, too. Jones always says that, no matter the situation, no matter the score.
No, keep listening.
"This is a huge confidence builder for us," Hawaii corner Kelvin Millhouse said.
"This was exactly what we needed," Gerald Welch said.
And it was. You could feel it. Everybody knew.
"This game really did it for us," said Uriah Moenoa, the big guard, who dived to save a fourth-quarter fumble and who led Mike Bass to the last touchdown of the night. "All we needed to do was get the ball rolling. It's a great feeling and we're going to dwell on this feeling for a while.
"We don't want to feel like Las Vegas again."
Hawaii outlasted Rice last night, outplayed, outlucked and outneeded the Owls.
That was the key. They didn't want to feel like Las Vegas again.
Rice? Rice did everything but wrap it up with a nice, pretty bow. Rice fumbled and jumped offside, had too many men in the huddle, gave the ball away. The Owls dropped an easy pass that Hawaii's David Gilmore was too happy to scoop up. Twice, Rice had receivers running wide open down the middle, the first one a sure touchdown that would have changed the game.
Both fell just out of reach.
The Owls were serving this one up on a platter.
The Owls played hard, but they didn't need this game quite as much. Rice played like a team on a losing streak.
"They made big plays, we made big plays," Jones said.
True. The option is three plays and a cloud of dust, and a fourth one that goes for 80 yards. Rice's Marcus Battle was incredible. Rice's Brandon Boyd was always around the ball.
But UH was more opportunistic than the Owls, too.
"The bottom line is," Jones said, "you gotta make 'em when you have 'em."
It was Hawaii pouncing on loose balls. It was UH taking what Rice gave. It was Welch, the former backup, known mostly for knee surgery and eating too much rice, with a beautiful leaping, twisting, foot-down grab in the air above the end zone.
A "great catch," Jones said.
And Hawaii's defense, swarming to that option, getting off blocks and to the ball. Timmy Chang, dancing out of trouble.
Jeremiah Cockheran. Diving. Grabbing.
"Unbelievable," Jones said.
But this team isn't cocky. No, not anymore. This was love. This was relief. This was something Hawaii needed.
Jones kept the pedal on the gas up to the game's final minute, just to get that engine revving again. As if to erase all bad memories from these two weeks past.
There are still questions here, but at least for a night, nobody's asking.
You might not learn much from playing a team like Rice. Except that teams need to feel this way. To learn again what it feels like to win.
"This is the WAC," Millhouse said afterward, "this is our conference, this is the most important thing. This is one of our most important goals, to win the WAC championship. And it all starts now."
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Kalani Simpson can be reached at email@example.com