UH, Ilaoa befuddle, bombard Utah State
|||UH football team is home for the holidays|
LOGAN, Utah — With 5 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter yesterday, a robust cheer arose from a meager Utah State crowd of 10,291 that had precious little to yell about in a drizzly 63-10 rout.
Indeed, KVNU radio christened it the Utah State "Whopper Play of the Game."
An Aggie touchdown?
Utah State's first field goal of the season?
No, something even more rare on this day: a stop of University of Hawai'i running back Nate Ilaoa for a 1-yard loss.
The Aggies' short-lived joy made for a powerful statement about just how much the day belonged to Ilaoa and the Warriors. In a game in which the Aggies at times threw the football equivalent of the kitchen sink at the Warriors — massing seemingly their whole defense in the box, that imaginary rectangle at the line of scrimmage — UH threw something even more decisive back at them: the 5-foot-9, 254-pound human bunker buster, Ilaoa.
On bruising runs and well-executed shovel passes, Ilaoa managed a combined three touchdowns and 210 yards, shattering the best-laid Aggie plans and carrying the Warriors to an invitation to the Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.
Quarterback Colt Brennan got Ilaoa the ball, the offensive line got him an opening and Ilaoa took it from there, running over linebackers and out-running defensive backs. One time he didn't stop until he met the fence and cement of the locker room beyond the end zone, one of the few instances he was forced to a halt.
Ilaoa's six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns and six carries for 55 yards and a touchdown added up to his best performance yet on a rising curve of game-breaking efforts.
While national commentators on ESPN gushed over Brennan's 413-yard, six touchdown effort, piling on well-deserved plaudits for setting two school records (39 TD passes in a season and 182 consecutive passes without an interception), the UH quarterback gave credit where it was often due yesterday.
"Nate," Brennan said, "made me look good. A lot of that was all Nate. I got (credit) for 60 yards (on a second-quarter touchdown pass) but it wasn't more than 5 yards."
Actually, they've made each other, not to mention their whole supporting cast, look good. Their growing synergy and the 7-2 Warriors' ability to make it all work with precision, as much as anything, is responsible for UH's sixth straight victory and the bowl berth it has clinched.
Perhaps the folks who appreciated it most yesterday were bowl officials who wore Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl logos and came bearing gifts. They made the overnight trip from Hono-lulu to present the ceremonial invitation on the field after the game. Three years before another Hawai'i Bowl delegation made the long trek only to be disappointed by a Warrior road loss in the sleet of Nevada.
"I hope we don't jinx anything," Jim Donovan, Hawai'i Bowl executive director, said nervously before the game.
Small chance of that. For as we have been continually reminded in recent weeks, this is a different Warrior team in many ways. For one, "We have the confidence that we can score on any play," Ilaoa said.
And, at times, they almost seemed to. They scored on a one-play drive (Ilaoa's 60-yard TD pass from Brennan), two two-play marches and, overall, eight drives of six plays or less.
One press box observer suggested the post-touchdown timeouts for television lasted longer than the actual scoring drives.
"This," Utah State coach Brent Guy said he told UH coach June Jones, "is the (best) team of his I've seen from Hawai'i."
After yesterday it would be hard to argue.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.