Hawaii defensive back David Gilmore braced himself after snagging an interception from Louisiana Tech wide receiver Shawn Piper during the closing seconds of the second quarter yesterday in Ruston, La.
UH gets road win
Hawaii beats LaTech
in a shootout for its first
away victory in four tries
RUSTON, La. >> There's still a long way ahead, with dangerous stops in San Jose and Reno, and a game in December against Boise State that could be a very big one. But at least one member of the Hawaii football team thinks the 360-degree spin from favorite to pretender back to top contender is complete.
After Hawaii's dramatic 44-41 victory at Louisiana Tech yesterday, junior right guard Uriah Moenoa pondered the state of the Warriors.
"I think this week fully turned us around," Moenoa said. "We had a big win at home last week, but we still had a big chip to get off our back. That was winning on the road."
Hawaii improved to 4-3 and 3-1 in the Western Athletic Conference, knocking the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-3) out of the league title race and winning away from home for the first time this season after three losses.
"It was great," Hawaii coach June Jones said. "Especially to do it that way and hang in and fight through all that stuff."
All that stuff included yielding 267 rushing yards by LaTech's Ryan Moats, turning the ball over five times, and squandering a 14-point lead late in the second quarter.
Normally, that's a combination for pure disaster. But in addition to four interceptions, UH quarterback Tim Chang passed for a career-high 534 yards and tied his personal-best mark of five TD passes he set against the other Bulldogs, the ones from Fresno State, in a 55-28 victory last week.
"We ended up making the plays when it counted and the defense stepped up when it counted. We had three (road games) prior to this that weren't satisfying," Chang said. "This has to be one of the best feelings. This is why we do this."
After Hawaii led most the game, the Warriors came back from a 34-31 deficit to retake the lead twice in the final 8 minutes and 28 seconds. First, on a 56-yard Chang bomb to Britton Komine, which Jones said he drew up on the sideline, and then on a 17-yard pass from Chang to Michael Brewster for the final score with 3:59 left.
"(Chang) came and made some plays. He had a little spell there where he didn't get it done," Jones said. "But he did what the great ones do: win games at the end. And he made some unreal throws at the end."
Still, there was plenty of time for the Bulldogs, whose wide-open offense nearly matched the Warriors' season-high yardage of 638 with 623.
Luke McCown -- a quarterback with credentials at least as good as Chang's, who passed his way into fourth on the all-time NCAA yardage list yesterday -- quickly moved LaTech down the field with a 27-yard pass to Erick Franklin and an 11-yard run by Moats.
But UH picked the right time to stiffen on defense, and got a bit of good fortune.
McCown's pass on third and 2 at the Hawaii 35 went off the hands of Franklin, and LaTech coach Jack Bicknell decided to let star kicker Josh Scobee try a 53-yard field goal to tie the game.
Scobee's kick went left and short.
"We did our normal jumper block and got a hand on it earlier," UH special teams coordinator Tyson Helton said, referring to an earlier block of a Scobee field-goal try by Leonard Peters. "I can't say that it affected him or not, but he was probably thinking about getting the ball up, especially since he missed another one after the block. That was from (53), game-winner, I'm sure he knew we were jumping again."
The Warriors took over on downs, and ran out the remaining 1:22 without running a real play because the Bulldogs had used all three second-half timeouts.
"You can't fault Josh for the loss," said LaTech cornerback Corey Brazil, who intercepted a pass and knocked down four others. "The wind was strong. He's accountable for missing one or two, but you can't fault him. This is a team sport, and we just didn't capitalize the way we should."
Hawaii cashed in early and often, as Chang completed his first eight passes, including TD tosses of 2 yards to Gerald Welch and 27 to Jeremiah Cockheran.
Meanwhile, McCown (who went 31-for-48 for 405 yards, three touchdowns and one interception) was good on his first five passes. But LaTech settled for a 22-yard Scobee field goal on its first possession.
McCown had many fine moments, but he was also seriously harassed by the Warriors, who bagged five sacks. Two were by strong safety Hyrum Peters (10 tackles), who played more of a linebacker position most of the game.
"We were having a little trouble protecting," Bicknell said.
After McCown's 39-yard TD pass to Chris Norwood, UH's West Keliikipi scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season with an 11-yard run.
That was all just the first quarter, and the offensive orgy between two of the nation's most prolific passing attacks predicted by many was well under way.
But the attacks slowed down in the second period. It wasn't until 2:39 before halftime that Justin Ayat padded the lead to 24-10 with a 28-yard field goal.
McCown fired back with 1:00 left on a 2-yard pass to DJ Curry, capping an 86-yard drive aided by the absence of UH linebacker Ikaika Curnan with a bruised calf muscle. Curnan, who along with David Gilmore led the Warriors with 11 tackles each, returned later.
The Bulldogs got the ball back on an interception by Jerron Wishom, but Gilmore returned the favor on the next play and Hawaii led 24-17 at the break.
Moats exploded in the second half for 218 rushing yards as the Bulldogs adjusted to a Hawaii defensive scheme using three defensive ends and a light tackle, Abu Ma'afala, to pressure McCown.
The drive that tied it at 24 with 6:41 left in the third was all Moats, as he carried four times for 64 yards, including the final 2.
Franklin's 16-yard TD pass from McCown capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive. At 0:18 of the third, LaTech led 31-24 and it looked like it would send the homecoming crowd of 19,128 home happy.
But the Warriors would make the final adjustment, bringing in wounded but solid run-stopping tackles Lui Fuga and Isaac Sopoaga to slow Moats.
Komine had a quiet game until the long TD pass from Chang that brought the Warriors back to life.
Then it was Brewster's turn, then the defense and then special teams.
Once again, the Warriors' defense was not a pretty sight to the football purist.
"But defense is stop the one you need to stop and do it at the end. And we did," UH defensive coordinator George Lumpkin said.