Hawaii gets chance to recharge batteries
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Fale Laeli and UH's defensive line have helped the Warriors into the top 10 in the NCAA in QB sacks this season
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After seven straight weeks of action, Fale Laeli is among the Hawaii football players who could use a break.
The junior defensive tackle has started all seven games this season despite playing through a painful case of tendinitis in both knees. Still, he was able to summon enough juice out of his legs to turn in one of the key plays in UH's overtime win over San Jose State, bulling through a Spartan lineman to record a sack of Adam Tafralis in the extra period.
"I saw (the guard's) chest, which was my target, and I was mad already," Laeli said. "I just saw the quarterback and got home from there."
The Warriors, ranked 18th in the season's first BCS standings, lead the Western Athletic Conference in sacks with 24. They're also second in the conference and 28th in the country in total defense at 324.1 yards per game.
The Warriors (7-0, 4-0 WAC) will have some time to recharge from the battles of the first seven games this week. UH has regular practices scheduled for this morning and tomorrow and is scheduled to hold its annual scrimmage for the scout team players on Thursday afternoon. They'll then take the weekend off before preparing for next week's home game against New Mexico State.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii defensive lineman Fale Laeli was able to take it easy yesterday after spending seven weeks in the trenches.
Too often the life of a defensive lineman is a story of "almosts."
More times than not, the effort expended in fighting past a blocker goes unrewarded as the quarterback lets the ball fly a tantalizing instant before impact.
So when Hawaii defensive tackle Fale Laeli broke through the line to wrap up San Jose State's Adam Tafralis in Hawaii's overtime win last Friday, he released 4 hours of frustration on the Spartan quarterback.
"The whole game I was always there, but I was late," Laeli said, "and for that to happen in overtime, it was sweet. I felt relief, I finally got one."
Laeli's sack on San Jose State's first play of the extra period preceded a Myron Newberry interception that sealed UH's 42-35 win and kept the No. 17 Warriors (7-0, 4-0) atop the Western Athletic Conference and in the hunt for a BCS berth.
The Warriors are in the midst of their first bye week of the season, giving several players -- Laeli among them -- time off to tend to their various aches and pains.
The Saint Louis graduate has started all seven games this season, despite playing through a case of tendinitis that makes each snap feel "like somebody's stabbing me in the knee."
"Every game I go out there I have to dig deep, because I know my knees are messed up," he said after the Warriors' conditioning session yesterday morning. "I just have to fight through the pain. ... Every play is just brutal."
Laeli had seen spotty playing time in his first two seasons at UH. He backed up standout defensive ends Ikaika Alama-Francis and Melila Purcell. He moved inside when the Warriors switched to a 4-3 front and earned a starting job alongside senior captain Michael Lafaele.
"It was tough watching from the sideline," Laeli said. "I felt like this is my year and I have to shine."
The junior has 4 1/2 tackles for loss for a defense that leads the WAC in sacks with 24 and ranks first in the league and 24th in the nation in rushing defense in giving up 106.1 yards per game.
Laeli and Lafaele lead a rotation of tackles that form the core of UH's defensive scheme, which requires that they hold their ground to occupy blockers and allow their teammates to flow to the ball carrier.
But there are opportunities to make big plays as well, as when Laeli powered through a San Jose State guard to work his way to Tafralis.
"He has tremendous strength in his lower body and his hands," defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said. "He gets an edge of you and he's hard to deny inside because he is so strong and can push through a small crack. He's learned as a pass rusher to use the tools that God gave him."
Along with his physical gifts, Reinebold credited Laeli's maturity in his development into a starter and with dealing with all those almosts.
"I'm happy for him because of the fact that he's really grown up in the three years that I've been here," Reinebold said.
"Where maybe as a younger player he would have gotten frustrated and started to play out of frustration, now he plays within the scheme and within himself and recognizes, 'I'm going to push and push and eventually I'm going to get there.' "
Still in the hunt
Despite Colt Brennan's four interceptions against SJSU, UH coach June Jones said the quarterback's effort in leading the Warriors' rally from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter should keep him in contention for the Heisman Trophy.
"To see him do that type of thing ... they know he can throw 38 out of 45 for 600 yards and win 68-10, now they saw that part of him," Jones said at his weekly press conference. "Now if we keep just winning and winning, they'll see the rest of it."
After further review ...
Lafaele has been credited with causing the fourth-quarter fumble that set up UH's tying touchdown on Friday. Lafaele and Blaze Soares both hit SJSU running back J.T. Callier on the play and Soares was initially given credit for the fumble, which was recovered by Adam Leonard.
Jones said Lafaele, who is working through hand and knee injuries, will be ready to play next week. Soares re-injured a shoulder that had hampered him early in the season during Friday's game.
"Blaze I'm a little bit concerned about," Jones said. "The bye will help him, but for that thing to be reoccurring, it's bothersome."
Back to committee
Jones said keeping running back Kealoha Pilares in for most of the game was due in part to the sloppy field conditions at Spartan Stadium. Pilares had been sharing time with Leon Wright-Jackson and David Farmer and finished with 78 total yards on Friday.
"I was going to do my whole deal where I rotated (the backs), but the field was so bad I didn't want to try to get all three of them used to the footing," Jones said. "I played one guy more because I figured the longer they were on it the more they knew what they could and couldn't do. Leon will play this week again and Pilares is getting better and better."