RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii running back Thero Mitchell celebrated with Nate Ilaoa after Ilaoa scored in the second quarter last night. The Warriors beat Eastern Illinois 61-36 in the season opener.
Warriors whoopIn every offensive huddle, a Hawaii player shouts "reload."
Hawaii looks goodSome cable viewers miss first half
in a 61-36 domination
of I-AA Eastern Illinois
Peters fills in well at safety
EIU's Raymond gets spotlight
Ilaoa backs up hype in debut
Warriors Game Stats
By Dave Reardon
Could the Warriors have done the same thing on a bigger scale, over the course of the off-season, as an entire team? Possibly, if last night's 61-36 season-opening victory over Division I-AA Eastern Illinois is any indicator.
The long and dangerous road - the first of five away games is next Friday at Brigham Young - will tell much more. But last night, after the first quarter, anyway, UH looked like it at least has a chance to live up to the achievements of last fall's 9-3 team.
An Aloha Stadium gathering of 38,019 saw the run-and-shoot in close to full working order as UH won its fourth-consecutive game - and first without Nick Rolovich and Ashley Lelie. It helped that Tim Chang's pinkie was up to the task.
Chang, who missed nearly two weeks of practice with a broken bone in the last finger of his throwing hand, fought off a slow start to finish with three touchdown throws on 19-of-30 passing for 374 yards in less than three quarters. He was intercepted once.
Chang said the Warriors' defense made the difference. The ringleaders were linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa with 10 1/2 tackles, cornerback Kelvin Millhouse with nine tackles and neophyte strong safety Hyrum Peters with nine tackles, including a sack, and an interception return for a touchdown.
"They set the tempo for us," Chang said. "We kept them on the field too long."
Tinoisamoa said that's OK.
"It doesn't matter if it's 100 plays or 50 plays, we want to be out there," he said.
It didn't start out very good at all for Hawaii. The first quarter was dangerously like UH's embarrassing season-opening loss to Portland State, another Division I-AA team, two years ago.
Justin Ayat's 34-yard field goal with 20 seconds left averted a scoreless first period for UH and made it 6-3, Panthers.
EIU had taken a 6-0 lead with 1:12 left in the first quarter when the Panthers converted an interception of Chang by David Bentley into a 4-play, 30-yard touchdown drive. J.R. Taylor used two strong blocks at the point of attack to break into the UH secondary and score from 19 yards out.
And EIU led 13-10 after an 8-yard pass from Tony Romo to Will Bumphus, capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive three minutes into the second quarter.
"It seems like every year I've been here we started slow in the first game," said Hawaii coach June Jones, who is now 2-2 in season-openers here.
But as it went along, the script began to resemble many from last fall - victorious ones for UH.
Big special teams and defensive plays kept the Warriors in it until the offense could get going. Sound familiar?
Peters' 28-yard interception return for a touchdown gave Hawaii its first lead, 10-6, on the first play of the second quarter.
"When Hyrum put up that six with a big play, it really took some pressure off us," Chang said. "After that I could relax and get in my groove."
After the Romo-to-Bumphus score, the Warriors bounced back with their first offensive TD of the season a quarter-plus into it.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Warrior receiver Justin Colbert celebrated after scoring in the second quarter at Aloha Stadium last night.
After Mike Brewster's 60-yard kickoff return shortened the field considerably, Chang hit freshman Nate Ilaoa for a 13-yard scoring pass with 11:35 left in the half, making it 17-13, UH. Ilaoa's first career score came two plays after his first career reception, a 17-yard catch-and-run to set up the score.
It was also the first scoring pass for Chang since the third game of last season, when he injured ligaments in his throwing hand and missed the rest of the year.
Following the Ilaoa TD, J.R. Raymond returned the kickoff to the Panthers' 44. But an EIU three-and-out - featuring a blindside sack by Peters - and a shanked punt gave UH the ball on its own 29.
Four plays later, Chang found Justin Colbert for a 59-yard scoring pass at 7:26 before the half - the UH outside receivers had been shut out to that point.
"We're going to need to get things going sooner than we did tonight in the games to come," Colbert said. "It's difficult to come from behind."
Colbert, the only returning starter at receiver from last fall, scored again on a 19-yard pass from Chang with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
By that time, the rout was on. It was the eighth consecutive scoring possession for the Warriors, and the score was 47-16. Backup quarterback Jason Whieldon, who appeared for two plays in the first half, took over for Chang on the next series.
A second Romo-to-Bumphus scoring pass, this one for 6 yards, finally stopped Hawaii's knockout run that included a 28-yard field goal by Ayat as time ended in the first half and TD runs of 1 and 5 yards by Thero Mitchell.
"As always with this offense," Mitchell said. "Once we find our rhythm it's going to be pretty good."
The field goal was set up by a fumble recovery by Keani Alapa on an onside kick. Overall, UH benefited from three turnovers while losing it twice themselves.
Freshman defensive lineman Abu Ma'afala returned a Romo interception 32 yards to make it 54-23 early in the fourth quarter.
Romo passed for two more scores, finishing with four TD strikes. He hit Andre Jones for 22 yards and Andre Raymond for 7.
Whieldon completed a 12-yard scoring pass to Britton Komine with 5:22 left.
EIU coach Bob Spoo leaves Hawaii with a loss for the second time in four years.
"I thought we fought hard, did some good things. We tried to come back," Spoo said. "I wish we'd been able to sustain what we did in the first quarter, keeping them off the field on offense."
Hawaii's offensive line allowed only one sack and helped the Warriors produce 578 offensive yards.
"We missed some little stuff, but we did a good job overall of picking up what (EIU's defense) was doing," right guard Vince Manuwai said. "Timmy Chang did a great job. He threw some nice long passes even though his pinkie was bust up."
Defensive tackle Lui Fuga's broken leg early in the first quarter and end Travis Laboy's inavailability (he declined to say why he didn't suit up) cut into UH's defensive line depth.
"Losing Lui hurt," defensive tackle Lance Samuseva said. "But guys like Isaac (Sopoaga) and Abu, you saw what they did. They're new to Division I football, but they showed they belong.
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