RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Hawaii receiver Jeremiah Cockheran pulled in a pass from Tim Chang over Houston's Stanford Routt and Jermain Woodard in the second quarter of the Hawaii Bowl yesterday.
- HAWAII 54, HOUSTON 48 -
Hawaii wins its first Hawaii Bowl
in an emotional game
One of the most exciting games in the history of the University of Hawaii football program ended with a Merry Christmas for the Warriors -- barely. But not much goodwill toward men by many Hawaii and Houston players.
Quarterback Tim Chang came off the bench to lead the Warriors (9-5) to a scintillating 54-48 triple-overtime victory over the Cougars (7-6) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl yesterday. A half-occupancy turnstile gathering announced at 25,551 (29,005 tickets distributed) and an ESPN audience saw Chang complete 26 of 42 passes for 475 yards and five touchdowns. Some of the crowd remained to see -- and a couple from the audience even participated in -- a 10-minute postgame brawl reminiscent of the one after Hawaii's victory over Cincinnati last year.
But the fight involving many players from both teams only took some of the gleam off what many participants said was the most exciting game they'd ever been involved in. Or even witnessed.
The teams combined for 1,158 yards, as Hawaii rolled for 641 and Houston got 517.
"Maybe (beating) Alabama compares, but that wasn't a bowl game," Hawaii center Derek Faavi said. "Timmy had so much confidence. Every play he called was right, and he got us pumped up. He just stepped up to the plate and that's what we expect from him."
Chang enters his senior season needing 2,218 yards to pass Ty Detmer, who holds the NCAA all-time passing record.
Hawaii coach June Jones is sure he can do it, and said he considers Chang a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
"It was a great way to end the season," Chang said. "It was an overall great effort by everybody. I was able to do my best to give it my all."
Jones pointed out some of the adversity the Warriors played under in their third bowl game in his five seasons at Hawaii.
"We overcame a lot of things," he said. "We played without our top three players, Chad Owens (foot), Nate Ilaoa (knee) and Travis LaBoy (academics). We fought through a lot of adversity and that's what you have to do to be a good football team.
"I'm happy for Timmy. It's funny how things work out -- to come off the bench and have a game like that on national TV is something I knew he could do from the get-go."
It was a day of redemption for Chang, who was benched in a victory over Alabama last month amid showers of booing from his home stadium crowd.
Safety Leonard Peters also vindicated himself. Peters was victimized by three big Houston touchdown plays, including the one that sent it to overtime. But Peters also made the final tackle: his team-high 12th of the game. He pushed Victor Marshall out of bounds at the Hawaii 18 to seal the victory -- the same player who scored on an 81-yard pass from Kevin Kolb with 22 seconds left to tie it at 34 as Peters and fellow safety David Gilmore cheated up too much in a prevent defense.
But that merely set the stage for overtime and the ultimate red zone test for Hawaii's run-and-shoot, an offensive scheme supposedly not equipped for close-quarters conflict. The Warriors, however, ran their OT record to 3-0 since the arrival of Jones.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Hawaii receiver Jason Rivers celebrated one of his seven receptions yesterday.
For Houston, the season ended sadly for a young team with a bright future.
"A lot of heartache, but growth in some areas," Cougars first-year coach Art Briles said. "Very tough because we hadn't won a bowl game in 23 years. Now 24."
The Warriors opened the first overtime (in which both teams start first-and-10 on the opponents' 25) on offense, scoring on a 3-yard pass from Chang to Britton Komine.
The Cougars responded with a 6-yard touchdown run by Anthony Evans, knotting the score at 41.
Houston went first in the second extra session, and Jackie Battle fought his way into the end zone for a 4-yard score. The freshman rushed for a game-high 124 yards and three TDs.
Hawaii answered with an 18-yard scoring pass from Chang to Jason Rivers. Rivers was another freshman who came up huge, with 143 yards on seven catches, including three touchdowns. The extra point to tie it at 48 added more drama, as Nolan Miranda's kick made it through despite being tipped by a Houston player.
Michael Brewster's 8-yard touchdown run in the third OT turned out to be the game-winner. Hawaii's 2-point try failed.
The Cougars continued to try to run on their last try, with Battle going 4 yards and Evans getting 1 before a false start pushed them back to the 25. Kolb hit Brandon Middleton for 5 yards before Peters set off the celebration that ended with the fight, and then Chang and Battle receiving player-of-the-game awards once things calmed down.
Early on, it appeared 11-point underdog but high-powered Houston of Conference USA might upset the hometown Warriors of the Western Athletic Conference.
The Cougars even threatened to run away early, leading 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-13 at halftime.
Chad McCullar scored on a 34-yard pass from Kolb, and McCullar appeared to return a punt 70 yards for a touchdown after Hawaii's first series ended with a three-and-out. But McCullar was ruled to have run out of bounds at the Warriors 10, and the Cougars settled for a 21-yard field goal by Dustin Bell and a 10-0 lead 5:55 into the contest.
McCullar finished with 103 yards on five catches and Marshall grabbed seven for 157. But the Warriors, in particular cornerback Abraham Elimimian, shut down Houston's biggest pass-catching threat; Middleton managed only three catches for 25 yards. Kelvin Millhouse added two second-half interceptions.
"They didn't really try to throw to my side, I don't really know why," Elimimian said.
"Their secondary did a great job of staying deep, not allowing me to stretch the field," he said. "They kind of screwed up our play-calling."
Hawaii got on the board with a 19-yard field goal by Miranda to cap a drive featuring a juggling catch by Rivers of a 35-yard pass from starting quarterback Jason Whieldon.
Whieldon left the game after a 5-yard scramble on the first play of the second half with a shoulder injury. Whieldon came back later to hold for kicks.
Chang replaced Whieldon and immediately found Clifton Herbert open across the middle for a 48-yard touchdown pass. Miranda's extra point tied the game at 10 with 14:28 left in the half.
The Cougars went to power ball, with Battle and Evans running behind an offensive line averaging more than 320 pounds.
A 2-yard rushing TD by Battle, Dustin Bell's 35-yard field goal and Miranda's 29-yarder accounted for the halftime score.
The Warriors tied the score at 20 on their first possession of the second half.
Chang hit Jeremiah Cockheran with a 64-yard pass, putting the ball at the Houston 4. Three plays later, Brewster scored on a 1-yard run.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Hawaii players celebrated their Hawaii Bowl victory over Houston last night at Aloha Stadium.
The Warriors took their first lead on a 7-yard TD pass from Chang to Rivers. An interference call against Houston's Gerald Price helped get the drive going that was set up by Millhouse's first interception. Hawaii was up 27-20 at 4:35 of the third quarter.
The Cougars then took advantage of a turnover. Will Gulley intercepted a Chang pass, putting the ball at the Houston 37. The Cougars drove steadily downfield, with Battle's 2-yard run and Bell's extra point knotting it at 27.
The Warriors re-took the lead as Chang led Hawaii down the field despite being sacked twice back to his 12-yard line, facing third-and-28. Chang then barely avoided sacks on the next three plays. He hit Cockheran (who fought to the first down marker), scrambled for 11 yards, and shoveled to Brewster, who skittered for 30 yards to the Cougars 19. Three plays later, Chang found Rivers in the end zone again for a 4-yard TD.
"He reminded me of Joe Montana on that drive," receiver Gerald Welch said.
"That drive was a reflection of his confidence," Warriors quarterback coach Dan Morrison said. "When you're not confident, those things become a downward spiral."
Hawaii led 34-27, but there was 9:51 left.
The teams traded punts, a Houston drive died at the Hawaii 15, and Miranda missed a 29-yard field goal with 58 seconds left after a 14-play, 73-yard drive that netted nothing for Hawaii but anxiety.
Then Kolb completed the short pass to Marshall on third-and-11 from the Houston 19 that ended with Marshall in the Warriors end zone.
"We probably let it get away at the end (of regulation)," Briles said. "Should have gone for two. A coaching mistake. We played hard, just came up short."
Hawaii athletic director Herman Frazier and Briles both said they would review tape to determine what should be done about the fight. No major injuries were reported from the fighting.