RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Hawaii's Abraham Elimimian broke up a pass intended for Houston's Brandon Middleton in the end zone yesterday. Trailing was Hyrum Peters.
Hawaii ‘D’ makes
The Warriors come up with
a big defensive stop when
The Hawaii defense learned that one play can erase a whole afternoon of struggles.
The Warrior defense watched Houston roll up and down the Aloha Stadium turf for 517 yards in the Hawaii Bowl, but it was the 3 yards it protected that made the difference.
After getting smacked in the mouth for an 81-yard touchdown pass that sent what had appeared to be a sure UH victory into overtime, and getting run over in the first two extra periods, the defense finally came up with the finishing blow.
With Houston facing fourth-and-5 at the 20, Cougars quarterback Kevin Kolb threw a short pass to his right to Vincent Marshall. Before Marshall could turn upfield for the first down he was knocked out of bounds 3 yards short of the marker by UH safety Leonard Peters, preserving the Warriors' 54-48 victory in triple overtime.
"We were just trying to make sure they didn't get past us for the first down," Peters said. "For some reason (Marshall) was loose, nobody was on him and I figured the quarterback was going to pop it to him. Sure enough he did and we caught him short."
Personally, Peters had experienced better days as a football player going into the final play. He gave up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game and was bowled over at the goal line in the second overtime.
But he was there to make the play that mattered at the end.
"Leonard plays with a lot of heart," said UH cornerback Kelvin Millhouse, who had two interceptions. "When one of us makes a mistake in the secondary we always try to come back and make up for it with a bigger play, and I don't think the plays before that even measure up to the play he made at the end."
Houston threw myriad offensive formations at the Warriors and mixed up the run and the pass effectively throughout the game. The Cougars came out with three receivers stacked to one side of the field on some plays and ran the option on others.
"They have a great coaching staff and they try to confuse the defense and they really did confuse us," UH linebacker Keani Alapa said. "You have to give credit to their coaching staff -- they were awesome."
It appeared the Warriors were on their way to celebrating a Christmas Day win before Kolb and Marshall silenced the home crowd with their game-tying connection with 22 seconds left in regulation.
Kolb hit Marshall with a dart up the left seam and Marshall outran the UH defense to the end zone.
"We were playing basic cover-four and everybody in the secondary dropped deep and we had three people covering underneath," Millhouse said. "The receiver just split the seam and no one was there. It was one of those freak plays. You have to give them credit, he was really fast and he made a good catch."
Houston went to the running game in overtime as Anthony Evans and freshman Jackie Battle, who ran for 125 yards, powered in touchdown runs.
But the UH defense had just enough to keep the Cougars out of the end zone in the third overtime.
"Before we came on the field we said, 'We're not letting them score. We're ending this game right now,'" Millhouse said. "We were able to do that and Leonard made a big play."
The Warriors played without defensive end Travis LaBoy, the Western Athletic Conference's defensive player of the year, who didn't meet academic requirements. In his place, Mel Purcell and Kevin Jackson combined for 11 tackles, one for a loss.
"LaBoy won MVP for us this year. He means a lot to our team," Jackson said. "But we didn't want everybody to feel as if something was missing. We had to step it up."
Despite some of his struggles, Peters finished with a game-high 12 tackles and said he will have surgery in four days on a shoulder injury that has bothered him since September. And one stop gave him something positive to remember this season by.
"It means the world to me to finish up the season like this."