Crushing finish to super season
|Photo gallery: Sugar Bowl game|
By Ferd Lewis
By Ferd Lewis
On a night the University of Hawai'i football team wanted to impress in the worst way, that's unfortunately how it turned out: the worst way.
The dream of a perfect Warrior season found an imperfect, nightmarish ending in game No. 13 under the big top that was the Superdome in a 41-10 drubbing by Georgia.
Sadly, the third-largest crowd ever to attend a UH game (74,383) and a national TV audience of millions never really got to see the team that rode the nation's longest winning streak into its first Bowl Championship Series appearance.
They never glimpsed a UH offense that had been the nation's most potent scoring machine at 46.2 points per game. Instead, they saw a team that couldn't score a touchdown until well into the fourth quarter.
For the first time in what had been a magical season, quarterback Colt Brennan couldn't command any second-half sorcery. There were no big plays to pull out of his pocket, no defensive breakthroughs with which to ignite a game-turning rally as had been the case against Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Nevada and Washington. "It's not how I wanted to end my career," Brennan said.
It would, indeed, be an uncharacteristic exit with the Warriors, who never found an offensive rhythm, committing a season-high six turnovers along with 11 penalties. "A gigantic disappointment," Brennan sad.
Many of the Georgia faithful had left the building by the time the fourth quarter began. By then, what would become the Bulldogs' highest-scoring bowl game victory was assured as the nation's No. 4-ranked team stated its case for an even higher finish in the season's last polls and advanced its candidacy for next season's national championship.
Hawai'i fans who had come more than 4,000 miles, many of them by circuitous routes, stayed to a bitter end. Some remained numb to the Georgia domination, others still tried to squeeze some luck from the remnants of thousands of ti leaves. Some still tried to make "We Believe!" signs work one last time.
But if the black-clad Georgia fans left for other pursuits, things still turned to black for Brennan, who faced a tsunami of black Bulldog uniforms led by defensive end Marcus Howard. On a play that underlined the night's theme of heavy-handed domination, Howard sacked Brennan and recovered the quarterback's fumble in the end zone for a Georgia touchdown.
Howard had three sacks and was named the game's outstanding player, the first defensive player to take the honor in the Sugar Bowl since 1979.
Defensive power was the story of this game.
"We knew coming into this game it would be one of the best if not the best defense we've ever seen," Brennan said afterward.
BATTERED AND BEATEN
All week, the Bulldogs had lauded Brennan and the UH offense. Last night they treated him like a human piņata, sacking him eight times, the most in the 38 games of his UH career.
Brennan, pounded to the turf for the final time, left the game with 13:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. True to the indomitable spirit that had carried him this far, Brennan sought to stay in the game, trailing, 41-3, attempting to wave off coaches and medical personnel, but was nevertheless removed to an ovation.
Thus passed the quarterback job to his air-apparent, senior-to-be Tyler Graunke.
"We didn't play the type of game we needed to play tonight," head coach June Jones said.
But while Brennan's departure was expected, even if the circumstances were hardly in keeping with the storybook season, Jones' future remains up in the air after nine seasons. The contract of Jones, who at 76-41 has won more games against an all-college schedule than anyone in school history, expires in June. An extension has yet to be announced. "I'm going to take some time off and then think about those things," Jones said.
For the Warriors, about the first things that could go wrong last night did. The jittery Warriors were assessed delay-of- game and false-start penalties on their first two snaps. "We were a little rattled from the get-go," Jones said.
Suddenly, before many of the white-clad UH hopeful had an opportunity to sit down after the opening kickoff, UH was staring at a first-and-20 situation, squandering what had begun as favorable field position at its 45-yard line.
NO COMEBACK THIS TIME
A string of debilitating penalties, two turnovers and the Bulldogs' ability to put the bite on Brennan left UH down 24-3 at halftime and rattled.
It was reminiscent of the Warriors' wobbly start to their final regular-season game exactly a month earlier on Dec. 1 against Washington, when UH also fell behind by 21 points. What had been planned as a hopeful halftime celebration of the Warriors' season to that point by the band contained a plea that "Our Warriors need us now more than ever."
But this time, there would be no second-, third- or fourth-quarter climb off the deck. No shaking off the cobwebs for a spirited rally and valiant victory.
After a 2007 to remember and celebrate, Cinderella never made it to the New Year.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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