Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Another ‘Almost’ game
for Hawaii

IT was a Dick Tomey-era effort.

It was a Dick Tomey-era result.

This was USC in 1978. Nebraska in 1982. Oklahoma in '83.

This was an Almost. This was an If.

This was one of the great defensive efforts in Hawaii's history. Frame it. Have the tape bronzed.

This was Pisa Tinoisamoa all over the field. Chris Brown stuffing people. Travis LaBoy closing, Houston Ala never giving up. Lance Samuseva a rock in the middle.

Matt Wright, everywhere on a bad wheel, hitting a quarterback who was bigger than he was.

In the end it wasn't enough, not quite. In the end it was 21-16, an onside kick skidding out of bounds, Hawaii's hopes with it. And then the final seconds ticked.

Only then, was it over.

But it was over.

A moral victory for a man who doesn't believe in them.

Alabama was too much.

You can criticize June Jones for his risk-taking. A fake punt that was inexplicably called after a penalty backed UH into a fourth-and-15. A nifty trick play pass to freshman lineman Abu Ma'afala that could have worked, that should have worked. Go ahead, call him on it. But only if you think UH could have beaten Alabama without trick plays and big gambles.

Hawaii's offense was nonexistent for much of the game. Timmy Chang had four interceptions and should have had three more.

And still, somehow, the UH defense stuffed Alabama, kept UH in the game.

"You're talking about guys laying it on the line," UH defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said, "playing hard every snap when they're in there. And when they can't go, they come to get their buddy to come in for them. Seriously, that's unselfishness right there. That's playing as a team."

"The defense was awesome," Jones said. "There was no quit in them."

Those sacks? Great coverage in the underrated secondary. Ala ran a marathon to get a first-quarter sack.

Then, at last, it happened. Chang stepped up in the pocket, slipped to his right, threw. Jeremiah Cockheran caught the bomb, high-kicked, spilled over the goal line with Charles Jones on his back. It all looked a little bit like You Know Who.

"The light went on about two weeks ago," Jones said. "And I knew he was going to make some big plays for us."

Another drive. Another score. It was possible now. It was close.

"We knew it would be that way," Alabama coach Dennis Franchione said.

If it's almost December at Aloha Stadium, college football royalty must be on the ropes.

But you've seen this happen. You know the story. UH's offense was too late, too little. Alabama was just a little too good. And then it was over.

At midfield, Alabama players crowded around Chad Owens in appreciation.

The lasting image is Tinoisamoa, yanking a ballcarrier's feet out from under him with 3:57 left, frantically gesturing for a timeout before the guy hit the ground.

Forever fighting.

Said Jones, "I can't wait to see the tape."

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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