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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 28, 2004

Warriors bowl over Wildcats in wild one

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Fighting for its postseason life, the University of Hawai'i football team turned back every challenge — including Northwestern's frenetic drive in the final two minutes — to pull out a pulsating 49-41 victory last night at Aloha Stadium.

Hawai'i slotback Chad Owens acknowledges the cheers of the fans after he scored his fifth touchdown of the game on a 16-yard pass from Tim Chang in the third quarter.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It was do or die," UH defensive back Abraham Elimimian said, "and I don't see any funeral for us tonight."

Northwestern and Hawai'i were out of lifelines entering last night's non-conference game. The Wildcats needed to win to finish with a winning regular season, the requirement for qualifying for the Music City Bowl in Nashville. They finished 6-6.

The Warriors, who improved to 6-5, also need a winning regular season to earn a berth in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. Their regular-season finale is Saturday night against Michigan State.

"We knew as a team we could stay alive," UH center Samson Satele said. "We just had to take care of some things. There was a big bump named Northwestern in front of us. We were willing to leave everything on the field to get the win. We did, and we're still alive."

The Warriors, who had a disadvantage in size and reputation, received a boost from several areas. Tim Chang threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Slotback Chad Owens scored five touchdowns — four on catches and one on a dazzling 76-yard punt return in which he left a trail of broken tackles. "Chad is just terrific," Chang said.

And the UH defense came through with two big stops in the fourth quarter.

On the first, a fourth-and-goal from the 1, defensive tackle Lui Fuga forced running back Noah Herron into a tailspin that resulted in a 1-yard loss.

The second came on the Wildcats' final drive, following a one-two punch to the gut when Northwestern's T.J. Jones scored on an 18-yard return of a blocked punt and then UH's Justin Ayat missed a field-goal attempt from 32 yards with 2:12 to play.

Warrior safety Leonard Peters levels Northwestern's Brandon Horn in the second quarter. Peters later made a game-clinching interception.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Wildcats started their final drive 80 yards and eight points away from forcing their fifth overtime game this season. It appeared the Wildcats' were out of hope when a shotgun snap sailed over quarterback Brett Basanez's helmet. Basanez fell on the football at the 50 and, a second later, linebacker Ikaika Curnan fell on Basanez. The officials assessed Curnan an unsportsmanlike penalty, advancing the ball to the UH 32.

"It was a little touch," Curnan protested. "It was nothing."

Basanez completed a 12-yard pass to advance the Wildcats to the 20. But two plays later, his pass over the middle was intercepted by a diving Leonard Peters with 1:06 to play, securing the outcome.

"I can't believe they called that an interception," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. "That's what I think, but I'm not calling the game. I don't want to take anything away from Hawai'i."

Peters, a safety, insisted he made the interception with a half-inch to spare.

"It got pretty close," Peters said. "If I didn't scoop my hands on the ground, I would have never caught it. I was hoping to make any kind of a play."

UH's Fuga declared: "We needed that. We needed every play. It was a dog fight. A lot of our guys were beat up, but we couldn't let this one get away. Everybody stepped up."

Hawai'i slotback Chad Owens acknowledges the cheers of the fans after he scored his fifth touchdown of the game on a 16-yard pass from Tim Chang in the third quarter.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Warriors reached deep into the playbook to come up with last night's game plan. They used two kick returners instead of one, and opened with a nickel defense featuring five defensive backs and 187-pound Elimimian as a linebacker/pass rusher.

The strategies did not work early as the Wildcats took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. Chang was intercepted twice, with one leading to a two-play, 26-yard touchdown drive, and a botched return on a pooch kickoff resulted in another Northwestern scoring drive.

But the Warriors appeared to gain an emotional lift when linebacker John Pickens pushed Chang at the end of a second-quarter scramble. Chang, who had already crossed the Northwestern sideline when he was hit, slammed facemask first into an aluminum bench.

"It was a little extra-curricular play," said Chang, was limping noticeably after the game. "But I didn't mind taking one for the team. I'd do anything for these guys on the team."

After that, the Warriors scored four touchdowns in the second quarter to seize a 28-20 lead at halftime. Chang completed 10 of 15 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter. All three scoring passes went to Owens, including plays covering 40 and 35 yards.

"There were times I could have hit Britt (Komine) or Gerald (Welch) or Jason (Rivers)," Chang said. "But Chad got the call, and he made the plays when we needed them."

Owens said he was encouraged when he noticed he was facing single coverage.

"It was the perfect scheme for me," said Owens, who caught nine passes for 155 yards. "They came out playing man (defense), and I feel that's a challenge. That's a one-on-one challenge. I'm always up for that. I did my best to win that challenge."

In the third quarter, the Wildcats went to an 11-on-1 defense on Owens, who fielded a punt at the UH 24. He broke free from three tackles before running into punter Brian Huffman's bear hug at midfield. Owens kept moving before breaking away, eluding another defender and completing his fourth punt return for a touchdown this season.

"That's what you're taught as a young kid: pump your legs, pump your feet and keep going," Owens said. "You never know what's going to happen. That's what I did on that play, and that's what we did all night. We kept going. We never gave up."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8051.