Chad Owens celebrated after catching one of his three second-quarter touchdown passes last night. Owens finished the game with five touchdowns.

One for the show

The Warriors move one win away
from earning a spot in the Hawaii Bowl
on Christmas Eve

The BCS conferences vs. access for mid-majors debate will rage nationwide through the New Year. But there was little argument when it was all over last night at Aloha Stadium.

Stars of the game

Chad Owens, Hawaii
He caught nine passes for 155 yards and four TDs, and returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown.

Brett Basanez, Northwestern
The QB went 19-for-41 for 319 yards, one TD and one interception, and rushed for 60 yards and one TD.

Key matchup

Northwestern running back Noah Herron vs. Hawaii linebackers
Herron carried the ball 27 times for 90 yards -- and no touchdowns. That was a major victory for the Hawaii defense, which came into the game last in Division I-A at stopping the run. UH middle linebacker Watson Ho'ohuli was in on a team-high 11 tackles. He made the two biggest stops of Herron -- a third-and-1 play that set up Chad Owens' 76-yard punt return for a score, and the tackle for a loss on fourth-and-goal at the UH 1 with 9:40 left in the game.

Say what?

"I caught the ball. It's up to the officials. It's not the NFL, where you can throw the red flag. I caught it."

Leonard Peters,
UH safety

Maybe the team from the Big Ten did belong on the field with the squad from the Western Athletic Conference, after all.

Underdog Hawaii outlasted Northwestern 49-41 as a crowd announced at 30,056 watched a middling team from the finesse-image WAC beat a middling team from the league that symbolizes power football. It was a huge game for both teams, with the Warriors (6-5) proving on the field they are the group who deserves to play late in December -- and might get the chance.

Northwestern coach Randy Walker was asked how the Warriors might fare in his league with a steady diet of Wolverines and Buckeyes.

"I don't know how they would do in the Big Ten," Walker said. "It's 38 degrees in Chicago. I'd like to play them there right now. It's a whole different style of football."

But on this night, between these teams, not a different level.

Chad Owens, a small, former walk-on, scored a school-record-tying five touchdowns against the team from Northwestern (6-6), an elite private university that earlier knocked off ranked teams Ohio State and Purdue while Hawaii was being pummeled by Boise State and Fresno State.

"That's one of those games where if you're on the road it's 70-0 again, but at home we're able to rally up," Hawaii coach June Jones said, referring particularly to the first quarter when NU led 13-0.

Hawaii won its sixth in a row at home and Northwestern finished 1-5 on the road.

"They were in the same boat as us. It was do or die and I wasn't about to die," Owens said. "It was big for the conference, big for the state. I'm glad me and the other seniors got to experience it. Now we're one win away from a bowl."

The Warriors must beat another Big Ten team -- Michigan State -- this Saturday at Aloha Stadium to qualify for the Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

Owens caught nine passes for 155 yards, and Tim Chang passed for 405 yards and the four TDs to Owens.

"We came with a game plan and it turned out to be a battle of wits," Northwestern safety Dominique Price said. "With both teams making adjustments, they made the right ones. We tried to disguise our coverages and do some blitzing. But Chang picked up on everything and he hit the holes in our zone."

Hawaii receiver Britton Komine got snared close to the goal line by Northwestern's Jeff Backes in last night's game.

It wasn't just offense where the Warriors proved their mettle last night. The mangled and maligned UH defense gave up some big plays, but made the ones it had to -- like a goal-line stand with 9:40 left and a 49-33 lead, when NU power back Noah Herron (27 carries for 90 yards) was stopped from the end zone on fourth and a long 2 by Watson Ho'ohuli.

And then there was safety Leonard Peters' controversial interception with 1:06 left, after the Wildcats had driven to the UH 20, threatening to tie the game -- and create a situation favorable to Northwestern, since it went 3-1 in overtime games this year.

Ho'ohuli and Peters each had 11 tackles to lead the Warriors.

"Their size is what fired us up," UH defensive tackle Lui Fuga said. "Everyone said they were too big, too strong, that they'd run us over, so we wanted to show we could play with the big boys."

The defense made the Warriors' special-teams breakdown less worrisome; T.J. Jones blocked a Kurt Milne punt at 6:55 and ran the ball in for an 18-yard score, and NU converted a 2-point conversion, making it 49-41 with 6:55 left.

Hawaii led 28-20 after a first half that Northwestern dominated until a late hit on UH quarterback Chang helped change the momentum.

The Warriors kept the pressure on after the break.

Watson Ho'ohuli and Lincoln Manutai stopped Herron on third-and-1 at the Northwestern 38, and Owens took the ensuing punt back for a 76-yard touchdown, his fourth TD of the game. Last night, it was rated the top play of the day on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Owens' return featured quickness and power, as the 5-foot-9, 177-pound senior kept churning while in the grips of 6-foot-1, 215-pound punter Brian Huffman. He eventually broke away and found the sideline and then the end zone.

NU came back with the first of two special-teams touchdown of its own, as holder Eric Batis scored on a 21-yard fake-field-goal run.

Keli'ikipi then capped a 64-yard drive with his second rushing score, a 2-yard run to put UH up 42-27.

NU quarterback Brett Basanez scored on a 6-yard run, bringing the Wildcats to within 42-33 after Ikaika Alama-Francis blocked the extra-point attempt.

Early on, it looked like the Wildcats might dominate. Chang was intercepted on UH's first two possessions. Hawaii escaped the first. Hawaii escaped the first pick, by Tim McGarigle, without damage.

Marvin Ward got the second one, as Chang threw under duress, and NU got the ball at the Hawaii 26. Two plays later, Basanez found wide-open Kim Thompson for a 24-yard touchdown.

Joel Howells improved the lead to 10-0 with a 43-yard field goal at 3:56 left of the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, UH neglected to field a short kick, and Northwestern's Scott Brownley recovered at the Hawaii 24. The Warriors defense stiffened, but Howells kicked a 46-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead.

Chang left the game with 11:43 in the second quarter for one play after he was knocked into a table on the NU sideline on a late hit from linebacker John Pickens.

But Chang returned to throw a perfectly placed 49-yard pass to Britton Komine and then a bullet 11-yard TD to closely covered Owens. At 10:54 before halftime, the Wildcats' lead was cut to 13-7.

"He sucked it up like a man and played well in the second, third and fourth quarters," Jones said of Chang.

NU came back with a 62-yard pass from Basanez to Jonathan Fields, putting the ball at the UH 8. On third-and-goal at the 1, Herron fumbled, but Basanez recovered and scored easily.

Hawaii fired back, with Chang hitting Owens for a 40-yard TD pass, capping a drive in which Chang also scrambled 19 yards.

Then UH took the lead, 21-20, at 2:20 before intermission when Keli'ikipi bulled through three Wildcats for a 6-yard TD and Justin Ayat hit the extra point. The run by Keli'ikipi capped a 57-yard drive in which Northwestern's defenders looked befuddled by the run-and-shoot pass patterns.

The Warriors weren't done. Following an NU punt, they took over at their own 32 with less than a minute left. Jason Rivers grabbed a short pass from Chang and turned it into a 33-yard gain. Then, with 7 seconds left, Chang found Owens again, this time for a 35-yard scoring pass. UH led 28-20 at halftime.



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