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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Hawai'i left with some legwork

 •  Slim Keli'ikipi back on field

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

They often practice apart from the rest of the football team, sometimes completely out of sight. Or, as has occurred at the University of Hawai'i, even on the women's soccer field.

They are kickers and, indeed, often considered a breed apart from their teammates, frequently overlooked or under-appreciated. A local sportscaster once questioned why anybody would invest one of its 85 precious scholarships in one.

But if there was a weekend that underlined the importance of having a good — or in UH's case even a healthy — kicker, this was it.

For want of a capable foot, UH might not have lost Saturday's 35-28 overtime game to upstart Florida Atlantic. Nor were the Warriors alone on what became Kicker Appreciation Weekend. If you don't appreciate the value of something until it is gone, this was that time for UH, among others.

Unranked Oregon State missed out on a major upset, falling 22-21 in overtime at fourth-ranked Louisiana State after its kicker, Alexis Serna, missed three extra-point attempts.

Northwestern similarly lost out on upsetting Texas Christian, 28-25 in overtime, as its kicker, Brett Huffman, missed five field goals.

And, at a stadium near you, the Owls of FAU got three field goals from Mark Myers to help set the stage for the overturning of UH. Meanwhile, such was the state of the UH placekicking game that the Warriors did not even attempt a 44-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter that could have kept the game from going into eventual overtime.

If Justin Ayat — or anybody else — nails the kick, the Warriors lead 31-22 and the Owls need two scores in regulation to beat UH.

Instead, head coach June Jones had all but ruled out before the game the use of Ayat, who had been suffering from a groin injury, for anything but extra-point attempts. And Jones apparently wasn't confident enough in the consistency of anybody else to try a field goal on fourth-and-10 from the FAU 27, where it turned out Michael Brewster's run came up 5 yards short.

There are any number of things the Warriors need to spend this week sorting out and shoring up — tackling, catching passes, running routes, etc. — but the kicking game can't afford to get lost in the shuffle. Not here. And, especially, not now.

Indeed, there were carryover concerns about the kicking game from last year when UH finished by missing seven of its last nine field-goal attempts — a situation the offseason was supposed to have resolved.

Heading out on the road next week to Rice, which won its opener by a field goal over Houston, 10-7, in particular, and the upcoming schedule in general, you get the feeling the Warriors are going to need every point they can come up with.

From here on making sure they put their best foot — or feet — forward needs to be a priority for the Warriors.

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