Fiery UH defense throws Vandals for a loss
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Who knew a little rest could yield such rampage?
Fresh from a bye week in which the road-weary rediscovered the joys of home, health and hellaciously intense practice, the Warriors returned to Aloha Stadium with a crushing display of defensive prowess, finishing what may have been their most impressive game of the season with seven sacks, three interceptions and 13 tackles-for-loss.
"When you go a week without playing football, it kind of puts poison in your blood," said senior left tackle Keala Watson. "Guys were running around making plays, just putting their bodies in the line of fire to help the team out. Defensively, we came out to play tonight. We try to do that every game, but tonight was special."
Watson's night included two sacks for a combined loss of 16 yards. Two of his five tackles resulted in a loss of 18 yards.
After surrendering 74 yards and a touchdown on Idaho's game-opening drive, the UH defense clamped down in a big way.
On Idaho's next possession, Joshua Leonard sacked Nathan Enderle for an eight-yard loss and the Vandals ended up punting on fourth down.
Following quarterback Greg Alexander's go-ahead touchdown bomb to Malcolm Lane, Desmond Thomas stripped Deonte Jackson and Ryan Mouton recovered on the Idaho 34.
UH would later turn the ball over on a fumble by Kealoha Pilares on the Idaho 7, but the UH defense made sure the Vandals didn't capitalize.
On Idaho's third down, Jameel Dowling picked off an Enderle pass and returned it 19 yards to the Idaho 2-yard line. The play was originally ruled a touchdown, but a review revealed that Dowling had stepped out of bounds on his return. Still, the heads-up play led to a touchdown rush by Pilares.
"Because we supposedly have a lot of talent on defense, we try to set it up for the offense and put them in a position to make plays," Watson said. "That's what you call team play."
The Vandals managed to score on a 52-yard field goal by Tino Amancio, but that was as much as Idaho could muster in the half.
On the next Idaho possession, Thomas notched the third interception of his career with a scooping pick-off of Enderle. That helped set up Alexander's touchdown pass to Aaron Bain.
"Coach McMackin challenged the D-line today and said it was all up to us," Joshua Leonard said. "As soon as our offense got up on them a little bit, it gave them no option but to throw. We just went to the pass rush and didn't worry about their rush."
With more than four minutes left for the Vandals to cut the lead to a more manageable 11 points, the Warriors took the opportunity to get up close and personal with Enderle. After a pair of incompletes by Enderle, the second a result of a bat-down by Watson, David Veikune charged the beleaguered quarterback and dragged him into an advancing swarm of UH tacklers.
Watson was called for unnecessary roughness on the play, however, extending the Idaho drive.
"That was just that poison in my blood getting to my head," Watson said. "That was my fault."
On the next play, Joshua Leonard broke through the line to sack Enderle again, this time for an eight-yard loss. After a false start penalty on the Vandals' Peter Bjorvik, Veikune tackled Jackson for a four-yard loss, forcing third-and-27 from the Idaho 11. The Vandals ended up punting on fourth-and-17 from their own 21.
The Vandals, who had already used all of their first-half timeouts, got the ball back with 1:23 left, but Watson effectively snuffed the drive by sacking Enderle for a 10-yard loss on the first down.
"Everyone played great," said Veikune, who finished with four tackles (including two for a loss of 10 yards) and a sack. "We're all starting to click right now, offense and defense."
The Warriors picked up where they left off in the second half as Veikune stuffed Jackson on a fourth-and-one attempt to kill Idaho's first drive and Keao Monteilh intercepted Enderle on the next to set up a touchdown rush by Daniel Libre to put UH comfortably ahead 42-10.
Solomon Elimimian led the Warriors with 13 tackles (10 solo).
Overall, the Warriors held the Vandals to just 219 yards of total offense, including just 40 rushing yards on 49 attempts.
"Our DBs played the run well with the linebackers and had a good overall sense of the D-Line," said Adam Leonard, who finished with 11 tackles. "There were a lot of four-man rushes where the coaches just said, 'It's on you: If you want to get the quarterback, go and get the quarterback.' "
Leonard said he agreed that the bye week allowed the defense to recover physically and regroup as a team.
"We went back to having fun in practice," he said. "Guys were focused, but we also got back to enjoying football. You saw that tonight. Guys were just flying out there having fun and enjoying our time together.
"As a team, we wanted to make a statement for the rest of the season, When teams look at that game film, we want to make sure that we put the right mark for ourselves and show what we can do. That's what we did tonight."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.