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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 25, 2004

Curtain falls all too fast for UH

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

When the final seconds began to tick off the Aloha Stadium clock yesterday there was little of the ritual celebratory countdown to be heard from the stands.

In the waning moments of the University of Hawai'i's 59-40 Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl victory over Alabama at Birmingham, the gathering of 38,322 had scant heart for the boisterous rendition of "5...4...3...2...1" echoing through Halawa Valley that we have come to expect in triumphant unison.

At times this season, you couldn't wait for the Warriors to tuck in some of their victories and call it a night, lest they slip away. But this one was different. This was the final act of a remarkable era that few wanted to see come to an end and everybody wanted to hang onto just a little longer.

With Tim Chang still throwing touchdown passes (four) and Chad Owens still catching them (two, plus the now obligatory punt return for a touchdown); with running backs West Keli'ikipi bowling over defenders and Michael Brewster darting between them, it was a show that you wanted to see go on and on, but knew it was inevitably coming to a too-soon end.

On a night when Chang and Owens fittingly shared MVP honors, helping put an exclamation point on the 8-5 season, the future intruded too fast.

After four consecutive victories and 201 points; after the early-season struggles and mid-season blowouts, these guys had found a rhythm the likes of which we hadn't seen since 2001 and here the fun was coming to a too-quick conclusion.

Even at four hours and six minutes, the longest engagement of the season, this game sometimes seemed to go too fast for the participants, who found themselves looking at the clock and wondering not only where the minutes had gone but the years.

"It went by so fast," said Chang, who added, "it seemed like my freshman year was just last year."

Indeed, when head coach June Jones told Chang that Jeff Rhode would replace him in the fourth quarter, "I had a couple of tears in my eyes on the sidelines when I heard that," said Chang who later dropped to a knee and said a prayer.

There was a collective recognition that a record-setting era had ended when Rhode ran on with 5:57 remaining and Chang departed to an ovation.

"I wanted to pretend it was for me, but I know who it was for and how much he deserved it," Rhode said. "I was so happy for him."

Was it really that long ago — September of 2000 — that Chang, a wide-eyed freshman trotted onto the field at El Paso to make his debut? Or, 2001 when Owens burst onto the scene?

"It has been a long ride, but it seems real quick," Owens said. "It is hard to believe it is over."

Quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison said: "I remember that first game, the (touchdown) pass Timmy threw to (Justin) Colbert down the sidelines and everything in between. This game just bookends it all so well. They, all these seniors, invested so much, it was a great way for them to go out."

Today, tomorrow — or a week from now — the Warriors will have to start thinking about next year and how they are going to go about trying to fill some very big shoes.

But up through the final seconds yesterday — and even beyond — everybody wanted to cling to the past just a little bit longer.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.