Warriors rally to bite Bulldogs
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Hawai'i quarterback Tim Chang unloaded a pass over Fresno State defender Claude Sanders during last night's Western Athletic Conference game in Fresno, Calif. Chang threw for 462 yards as the Warriors rallied for a 31-21 victory.
"There's no 'dead' in a Warrior," UH offensive lineman Uriah Moenoa said after the Warriors overcame a 21-9 deficit by scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter. "A Warrior doesn't die. We forgot about our pain and soreness. We felt none of that. Determination is the best medicine."
It was the Warriors' first victory in Fresno since 1973, and it was constructed before a national television audience and a smack-talking crowd of about 35,000. The Bulldogs entered with a 27-4 home record in Pat Hill's six years as head coach. But they exited in dazed silence, victimized by UH's relentless defense and a run-and-shoot offense that quarterback Tim Chang steered with confidence.
Chang, a third-year sophomore, completed 36 of 61 passes for a career-high 462 yards, including the go-ahead 13-yard scoring strike to Britton Komine with 2:25 to play.
"I'm drained emotionally and physically," said Chang, slumped in the postgame locker room. Then Chang fought back tears of happiness while his teammates broke into their version of, "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
"The guys played great," Chang said. "They stuck with it all the way. Sometimes it looked like we were tired and huffing, but we sucked it up, like men, and we played together."
UH wideout Justin Colbert praised Chang, noting the soft-spoken quarterback "had a little bit of a swagger, and that's what got us over the top. He's the leader, and we all look up to him. He told the offensive line to give him some time and he would make the plays, and he did."
It was Colbert who closed the Warriors to 21-16 when he caught a pass at the end of a post route and sprinted the rest of the way for a 58-yard scoring play.
"That was a switch route, and the (safety) gave me the post, so I took it," said Colbert, who caught 11 passes for a career-high 188 yards. "(Chang) put the ball right on the money. When I caught it, I told myself, 'I'm not going to get caught.' I'm supposed to be the fastest guy on the team, and I'm not going to get caught. I was running like crazy. If I got caught, I probably would be cut from the team. I would have gotten back up and kept running to San Francisco. I'm just happy I got the opportunity to make a play, God bless."
But it appeared the Warriors had maxed out their big-play credit. Their next drive ended when Tyrone Culver intercepted a Chang pass near the goal line.
But as a dejected Chang jogged toward the UH sideline, he was met by UH linebacker Chris Brown, who yelled, "We're going to get the ball back. Don't worry."
"Right then," Colbert recalled, "I knew it wasn't over. The defense made a promise, and they don't like to go back on their word."
Three plays later, redshirt freshman Paul Pinegar attempted a fade pass along the right sideline. Cornerback Kelvin Millhouse, who was burned on a similar play earlier in the game, this time raced down and made an over-the-shoulder-pad interception. His 15-yard return gave the Warriors the ball at their 49.
Through three quarters, the Bulldogs decided to front-load their defensive attack, moving eight players into the tackle box the imaginary rectangle near the line of scrimmage and sending as many as three blitzers. But after Colbert's long touchdown, the Bulldogs retreated into a pass-prevent scheme, and Chang was able to find open receivers on underneath routes.
Chang threw 10 yards to Jeremiah Cockheran, 12 and 10 yards to Komine, 3 to Neal Gossett and another 3 to Colbert. Two plays and a timeout later, Chang teamed with Komine for the 13-yard scoring pass that gave the Warriors a 24-21 lead.
"I just made my read, hit the post and Timmy put the ball there," Komine said. "Timmy was awesome."
Then the UH defense, which struggled early, stepped up once more. In the first half, the Bulldogs aligned 6-foot-2, 309-pound guard Dartagnon Shack in the backfield as a fullback. Shack, who is regarded as pound-for-pound the Bulldogs' strongest player, opened up the running lanes for Rodney Davis.
"They put that big sucker back there and it caused some problems," UH defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said.
At first, Lempa tried to stack the tackle box with as many as eight defenders, but that left the Warriors vulnerable to play-action passes to the tight end. In the second half, he went to a special blitz package, in which the linebackers would pause before storming the backfield. That scheme had the double-edge effect of slowing Davis and hurrying Pinegar.
To make the scheme work, the cornerbacks must play man-to-man coverage. "We have confidence in our corners," Lempa said. "They can make plays."
That trust was rewarded when Millhouse made his second interception of the game, this time with 53 seconds left and the Bulldogs looking to set up the tying field goal attempt.
"It's disappointing," Pinegar said. "It was a big game. ... We needed a win. It was there for us, but we didn't take it. It's frustrating."
John West's 81-yard scoring run ended the Bulldogs' comeback prayers, and triggered a countdown to a wild UH celebration. The Warriors, who were taunted by Bulldog fans the entire game, began flashing shaka signs.
The Warriors improved to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Western Athletic Conference. They need one more victory in their final five regular-season games to earn a berth in the Hawai'i Bowl on Christmas Day. The Bulldogs fell to 4-5 and 2-2.
After the game, the Warriors spoke of their united front. "It's all about the brotherhood," linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. "We're a family, and a family never gives up on each other. We played to the end."
Moenoa added: "It was a dog fight, so to speak. We stepped it up when we needed to step it up. As they say, it's not how you start but how you finish."