RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's defense brought down San Jose State running back Yonus Davis during the first half of last night's game at Aloha Stadium.
D-line brings the iron
With the unit depleted, Purcell, Lafaele and Alama-Francis set the tone by playing through
With injuries robbing the Hawaii defensive line of its depth up front this season, the Warriors' starting trio didn't come off the field much against San Jose State last night.
The Spartan offensive line probably wished the Warriors coaches would have given Melila Purcell, Michael Lafaele and Ikaika Alama-Francis a break more often.
The Warriors defensive front harassed San Jose State quarterbacks Adam Tafralis and Myles Eden throughout the night, and combined for five sacks, in Hawaii's 54-17 victory at Aloha Stadium.
They dominated the Spartans at the line of scrimmage to limit the Western Athletic Conference's second-leading rushing attack to 29 yards through three quarters and 82 in the game.
"These kids have an awful lot of pride and they're starting to develop an identity," defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said. "For years they've been pushed around, people have run the ball on them at will almost. Now they've developed an attitude that nobody's going to run the ball on them.
"We challenged them during the week that this is going to be as good a running team as we've seen since Nevada and they rose to the challenge."
Purcell had 2 1/2 sacks to push his team-high total to 7 1/2 for the season and finished with seven total tackles, 3 1/2 behind the line of scrimmage. He also forced a fumble.
Alama-Francis recorded four tackles, three for losses totaling 13 yards, including a sack, and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.
The defensive ends were also credited with a combined seven quarterback hurries.
"Coach just told me, 'You're getting that green light,' and everybody was just firing it up," Purcell said.
Lafaele continued his steady play in holding his ground in the middle of the line and recorded his second sack of the season.
"We all pick each other up, it's like a challenge," Lafaele said. "(Purcell) makes a play, Ikaika makes a play and I try my hardest to make a play."
The attention Lafaele and the defensive ends commanded from the Spartans offensive line left the rest of the front seven to pursue the ball as the Warriors frustrated the SJSU offense for much of the evening.
"(Lafaele's) the main guy in there; it all starts with him," said linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who recorded a game-high 12 total tackles.
"You have to account for three defensive linemen. .... You can't block them one-on-one, you have to double-team them and that leaves me and (inside linebacker) Adam (Leonard) free."
SJSU running back Yonus Davis had averaged 101.3 yards in the Spartans' previous nine games, but found little running room against the Warriors and finished with 29 yards.
"We knew coming in they were going to be a running team and all we could do was sell out every play," Alama-Francis said. "And we got a lot of help from the linebackers and defensive backs. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't have gotten all those sacks. Everybody just played in synch -- it was amazing to see."
For much of the season, the Warriors had freely rotated linemen to keep fresh players on the field. But with injuries depleting their numbers on a weekly basis, the starting core played more snaps than usual last night.
David Veikune, Fale Laeli and Larry Sauafea came in to give the starters an occasional breather.
Renolds Fruean (ankle) and Keala Watson (knee) were back in uniform last night and could have rotated into the line more, Reinebold said. But the coaches wanted to ease them back into action.
Not that the coach had to coax the starters into staying on the field longer.
"I had to take their helmets away to keep them from going with no time in the fourth quarter," Reinebold said. "They're in great shape, they work hard. They're a credit to this program and I'm awful proud of them."