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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

An early victory over Cougars could go long way

Warriors, Cougars lie low before tonight's kickoff
UH vs. BYU: How they match up

By Ferd Lewis
Staff Columnist

PROVO, Utah — The road to early notoriety for the University of Hawai'i football team this season is a four-lane blacktop called University Avenue.

It leads directly to towering 65,000-seat LaVell Edwards Stadium at Brigham Young University, where the Warriors find their best — though still supremely challenging — shot at making a national impact this season.

The Warriors made a splash nine months ago with their 72-45 demolition of the then-undefeated Cougars at Aloha Stadium, a nationally televised victory seen by 1.5 million households until ESPN pulled the plug in the fourth quarter for a basketball game.

It was a triumph that, had it not come on the final day of the regular season, would have done a lot more for the Warriors in terms of a bowl, ratings and prestige.

Now, in the second game of this 13-game regular season with another ESPN audience, UH today at 1:05 p.m. (Hawai'i time) gets an opportunity to follow it up with a game that could be the launching pad to an even bigger year.

With no basketball game looming behind it, the stage is all UH's to make of it what it can. Beat BYU back-to-back, something none of the last 14 teams to take down the Cougars have been able to manage, and suddenly the Warriors are validated as a team to be watched — and a lot more.

Beat the Cougars in their den, almost 3,100 miles from home and 4,553 feet up in the Wasatch Range, and UH will have sent a loud and clear message.

"If we can beat BYU, then it would be huge for us. It would show that last year's win wasn't a fluke," said linebacker Chris Brown.

"If," is the operable word here for the Warriors for more reasons than being 10-point underdogs on the Las Vegas betting line.

No UH team has won here in seven tries. And, except for 1993, when a last-minute field-goal beat UH, 41-38, none has come close.

"We usually have a good team, and between that, our elevation, and all the fans we have, it gives us a big home field advantage," said BYU tight end Spencer Nead, "especially against a team like Hawai'i, that has to come from sea level."

Despite the success they have enjoyed at home of late, where they have won four of the past seven games — usually by double-digit margins — against BYU, the Warriors are still waiting for that breakthrough triumph on the road.

It is one trophy that has proved elusive over the years in a series seen by UH fans as the school's biggest, and most heated, rivalry.

Indeed, in their shared 18 years as Western Athletic Conference members, BYU was always the yardstick for the Warriors. Beat the Cougars, as UH did in 1989 and '92, UH's bowl years, and it meant something usually far beyond any other game on the schedule.

Lose and somehow the losses hurt more than those inflicted by anybody else.

With BYU now in the Mountain West Conference, today's game will have nothing to do with the Warriors' own conference race, where they still could take a WAC title no matter what happens in Provo.

But with a national audience, a marquee opponent, and last year's victory as a stage-setter, this is where the drama unfolds.

Today is an opportunity to really make this season something special, from the beginning this time.