JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii receiver Ian Sample scored his first two Aloha Stadium touchdowns last night against Eastern Illinois.
Sample visits end zone
Ian Sample decided to act like he'd been there before -- even though he hadn't.
The senior receiver had never reached the end zone at Aloha Stadium prior to his breakout performance last night in Hawaii's 44-9 rout of Eastern Illinois.
Still, he tried to play it cool when he caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to open the Warriors' scoring binge.
"I did feel like celebrating," the sixth-year senior said, "but I was like, 'Nah just play it off like you've been there before.' But it felt really good."
Sample made his first start in a little more than a year and responded by catching six passes for a career-high 122 yards and two touchdowns -- all before halftime.
Sample, who needed an NCAA waiver to get a second shot at his senior season, backed up Ross Dickerson at right outside receiver in the Warriors' first three games.
With Dickerson sliding inside to slotback in place of the injured Ryan Grice-Mullins, Sample moved into the starting lineup and contributed to Hawaii's barrage as the Warriors built a 34-9 lead before the break. He spent the second half on the sideline as the reserves took over.
"I felt like Ian Sample was one of our most consistent wideouts for a couple of years," Hawaii coach June Jones said. "Unfortunately, he hurt his knee last year, but he's a good football player. ... I was happy he had some success, because I think it'll just snowball from here."
Sample was part of a productive night for Hawaii's sixth-year club, as running back Nate Ilaoa ran for two touchdowns and safety Leonard Peters came down with an interception in the second quarter. All three seniors were granted extensions in the offseason.
"Us old guys did OK," Sample said. "All of us had ice on at the end of the game. You could tell we're all 23 and above."
Sample's only previous touchdown in an injury-plagued UH career came in last year's loss at Michigan State and capped the Warriors' first possession with his second career score.
Eastern Illinois briefly closed to 14-6, and threatened to build on its momentum with a sack of quarterback Colt Brennan to force third and 20. But Brennan hit Sample cutting across the field and the senior turned upfield for a 32-yard completion and a key first down. The Warriors scored three plays later to go up 21-6, eliminating any semblance of drama.
"They were playing cover-two (zone defense) a lot and that opened a lot of holes for the outside guys," Sample said.
Sample posted the longest completion of his career late in the half, getting open for a 43-yard touchdown reception to push UH's lead to 27-9.
"The corner had squatted and that gives me the right to hit the post and the ball was right there," Sample said.
"It was easy for me. I just run it and catch it and both balls were perfect, so I put that on Colt and the O-line."
After missing most of 2004 with a shoulder injury, Sample started the first three games last year and was on his way to a career-best night at Idaho before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Warriors' win.
He appealed for an extension to the NCAA's five-year rule and had to wait until the morning of the first day of fall camp to learn that he'd been granted the waiver.
He entered last night's game with just four catches for 40 yards over the first three games, but found satisfaction in contributing in other aspects.
"Every game I go out there and I might not catch balls, but I'm blocking and I'm running guys off," he said. "My Boise State game (the previous week) was probably one of the best games I've had. I had two catches but if I run them off real well and someone scores, I'm just as happy about that."
Last night, it was his turn to celebrate ... sort of.