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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

UH's confidence built on allegiance to team

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

FRESNO, Calif. — It was 5:45 in the morning, early enough for June Jones to smell the freshly brewed coffee in the Picadilly Inn's dining room and savor the aftertaste of what he described as the most significant victory in his four years as the University of Hawai'i football team's head coach.


Hawai'i vs. Fresno State replay, Tuesday, 7 p.m. on Oceanic 16

The made-for-television drama, an improbable 31-21 comeback victory over host Fresno State, moved the Warriors (6-2 overall, 5-1 in the Western Athletic Conference) a victory away from securing a berth in the Hawai'i Bowl on Christmas Day.

While the outcome proved the Warriors can win in a hostile environment and that quarterback Tim Chang is a rightful leader, it also marked the moment when the Warriors became a family.

Jones always has warned his players of the dangers of implosions, that a team only can be beaten from within. That again was the message as the Warriors prepared to play in Bulldog Stadium, where they had not won since 1973, when Jones was a backup UH quarterback. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs entered with a 27-4 home record in Pat Hill's six seasons as Fresno State's head coach.

But sometime last week, the team leaders — Chang, linebackers Chris Brown and Pisa Tinoisamoa, and offensive lineman Vince Manuwai — took charge, imploring their teammates to embrace Jones' message.

The players called themselves the "Brotherhood," and each pledged their allegiance to team unity. Bulldog Stadium became the ideal lab.

"We went into a hostile environment, and all we had was each other," slotback Britton Komine said. "Coach believed in us, and we believed in ourselves, and that's all that mattered."

Even when the Warriors trailed 21-9 in the fourth quarter, linebacker Matt Wright recalled, "We knew we would come back. There's more on the line when you play for each other than when you play only for yourself. That's part of the brotherhood. We understand that. We know we would do anything for each other."

When the crowd noise drowned out Chang's calls, he went to hand and leg signals to alert teammates to the coming plays. When the Bulldogs used a 309-pound offensive guard as a fullback, the Warriors stacked the defensive line. "Maybe one man can't stop someone, but many guys can," Brown said.

And when the Warriors needed big plays, safety Hyrum Peters made two open-field tackles, cornerback Kelvin Millhouse intercepted two passes and Chang kept finding open receivers.

"I was pleased for Timmy because he stood in there and threw the ball," Jones said. "We didn't protect him as we have (in previous games) because of the crowd noise and some other things, but he hung in there and made the plays when he had to make the plays."

Already assured of a winning WAC record, the Warriors close their league schedule with games against San Jose State and Rice. Then they play non-conference games against Cincinnati, Alabama and San Diego State.

"It's one game," Jones said of Friday night's victory, "but I knew if we won this game, it would give us some confidence through the meat of our schedule. It's going to be very tough down the line. I don't look way ahead, but we have a chance to be better than 6-1, but at the same time, every game is important."

Later, he recalled the highlights of the Fresno State game, and then crunch time, when 310-pound defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga bear-hugged him while repeatedly offering thanks for the opportunity to play for UH.

"This one feels good," Jones said. "We're going to enjoy it for the moment, then get on to San Jose State."