JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's defense held Washington to six first downs in the second half last night after giving up 15 in the first 30 minutes.
UH defense comes up big down stretch
This is why he came to Hawaii.
With the Warriors and a possible BCS bid threatened by overtime or worse by Washington and quarterback Jake Locker at the 6-yard line, Ryan Mouton intercepted a tipped pass from Locker in the end zone, ran the ball out 19 yards and slid on his knee with 3 seconds left to secure the 35-28 win.
Senior cornerback Gerard Lewis tipped the pass in the air, and Mouton -- forced to play out of position at safety because of early injuries to Jake Patek and Desmond Thomas -- snagged the ball as Aloha Stadium erupted in jubilation.
It was the only turnover No. 11 Hawaii forced in the game, but it couldn't have come at a better time.
"This is why I came here, because I knew we had a chance to go to a BCS game," said Mouton -- normally a cornerback -- as delirious fans mobbed him with high-fives and congratulations moments after the game clock read 0:00. "I think with this win, it feels good, they'll put us in there."
"Players make plays, and these guys made plays," defensive coordinator Greg McMackin said.
The pick capped a stellar shutout defensive effort by the 12-0 Warriors in the second half, as they were down early in the first quarter behind long runs by Locker and tailback Louis Rankin. Combined with three lost fumbles by the Hawaii offense that gave the Huskies consistently excellent field position, the Warriors stared at a 21-0 deficit with 5 minutes, 23 seconds still remaining in the opening period.
But the team was able to wipe all unpleasant thoughts of the first quarter away after a fresh 15 minutes was displayed.
"We said at the end of the first quarter, 'It doesn't matter!' " linebacker Adam Leonard yelled over the crowd on the stadium field. "Once that's over, it's over. We played three good quarters of football."
The defense allowed only 148 of Washington's 388 yards of total offense in the second half, and 72 of that came on the last drive that Mouton snuffed.
Because of first-quarter injuries to starting safeties Patek (high ankle sprain) and Thomas (hip pointer) McMackin entrusted Mouton with an unfamiliar position, and Erik Robinson with a job he had never fully experienced in crunch time.
"Everyone has to know what everyone does, in case we have to fill in or whatever," Mouton said. "We know we can get the job done no matter who's out there."
Robinson was in on seven solo tackles and Mouton added six. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian had a team-high 12.
"A couple of guys went down and I had some reps this week, so it was my time to step up," Robinson said. "I was kind of nervous when I went in, but I just had to settle down and get right."
Locker started the final drive from the Huskies' 22 with 38 seconds left and hit Marcel Reece with a 49-yard pass to the Hawaii 4 as the air went out of the stadium. But Locker was stuffed for a loss of 2 yards by Elimimian with 12 seconds left, and his next attempt at the end zone would be his last.
"This was really a good (Washington) offense," McMackin said. "I don't care what people think or what their (4-9) record is, (but) our guys made a play at the end, which they have all year long. They've come up with a play to get us out of trouble. You cannot believe how much I admire this total football team."