Warriors stick it to Cougars
POSTED: Sunday, November 30, 2008
Hawaii's holiday season became a little more festive last night.
A Warriors football team that stumbled early in the season got off to a fast start against Washington State and secured a berth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl with a 24-10 win over the Cougars before a crowd of 34,240 at Aloha Stadium.
"I'm cherishing every moment down here and to know that I've got another month's work down here is definitely exciting for me," Hawaii senior linebacker Adam Leonard said.
Hawaii bolted to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and the Warriors defense set season lows for points and yards allowed to earn the spot in the Christmas Eve bowl with a game to spare.
"I feel a responsibility to the fans and the university and there's no way we weren't going to go to a bowl game," said Warriors head coach Greg McMackin, who accepted the invitation from Hawaii Bowl executive director David Matlin in a presentation at midfield after the game.
"We had some adversity, but we stayed together."
McMackin became the second UH coach to reach a bowl game in his first season. His predecessor, June Jones, was the first in 1999, when McMackin was defensive coordinator.
The postseason bid was sweetened by the struggles the Warriors—who close the regular season against BCS-bound Cincinnati on Saturday—endured in a 1-3 start, surviving a wild ride to return to the Hawaii Bowl.
"We had a lot of adversity through the year and had a lot of people jump off-board and write us off," UH quarterback Greg Alexander said after throwing for a season-high 315 yards and two touchdowns. "We have a great group of leaders. Our seniors got us together and said we've just got to stick together and good things will happen."
Alexander's first touchdown pass went to receiver Greg Salas, who finished with a career-best 131 yards. Mike Washington had four catches for 81 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Warriors control after Washington State closed to 17-10.
Hawaii racked up 378 yards in total offense, and held Washington State (2-11) to 196, limiting the Cougars to 120 yards rushing and 76 passing.
"Our D-line is doing a great job of just causing havoc," said Leonard, who had 10 tackles to match Solomon Elimimian for game-high honors. "When they do that, it makes playing linebacker a lot easier."
After a Washington State punt was downed at the Warriors 3, the Hawaii offense turned in its longest drive of the season on its opening possession.
Alexander marched the Warriors 97 yards in 10 plays and the Warriors took the lead when Salas caught a pass over the middle and broke a tackle to get into the end zone.
"We knew they were going to be tough, they still have their Pac-10 athletes and we knew we had to get out fast," Salas said.
Another Cougars punt set up another UH score, this time a 2-yard run by Daniel Libre.
After a Washington State field goal, a fumbled snap deep in Cougars territory set up a 22-yard Dan Kelly field goal to give UH a 17-3 lead at halftime.
The tension in the stadium grew when Washington State closed to within 17-10 on Dwight Tardy's 1-yard run.
Hawaii's Malcolm Lane shifted the momentum again by returning the ensuing kickoff 48 yards. Three plays later, Alexander hit Washington in stride on a post route to cap the scoring.
"Pre-snap read I'm thinking touchdown, but I didn't want to get too excited and alert the defense," Washington said. "I just ran my route, read the defense and me and Greg were on the same page."
The defense shut the Cougars out the rest of the way to wrap up UH's third straight win, leaving the Warriors to look ahead to senior night—and beyond.
"We knew (Washington State) wanted to come in and take one from us. This was the must-win," Leonard said. "We definitely didn't want to be in a situation where we had all the cards dealt for Cincinnati. To be bowl-eligible now, it relieves some of the pressure and we can just have fun."