Receivers got Warriors off to fast start
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
On an evening made for running backs, it was the Warriors' receivers who prevailed against wind, rain and a tempestuous Washington State defense.
With the UH running game limited to just 63 yards — 43 by quarterback Greg Alexander — the sure-handed receiving corps came up big when it counted, capitalizing on quick reads by Alexander to rack up 315 yards on and two touchdowns.
"In conditions like this, you have to focus because you're fighting the wind and the rain," said Michael Washington, who finished with four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. "We also knew from watching tape that they were going to be good despite their record. We knew they had a strong front four and we were going to get pressure, so we had to make sure that we set ourselves up as quick as possible to help Greg out."
Sophomore Greg Salas led the team with seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, and Washington provided a momentum-shifting 44-yard touchdown that quashed a Cougar comeback.
"Washington State did a nice job of disguising their coverages and making changes at halftime," said offensive coordinator Ron Lee. "This was a tough team because they showed a lot of different coverages, and that made it tough for us to read."
With UH starting its first possession on its own 3-yard line, the Warrior receivers established themselves early as Aaron Bain corralled a pair of passes for 25 yards. The 97-yard drive ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Alexander to Salas.
"They were bringing the pressure, so we just tried to get open as much as we could," said Bain, who finished with five catches and 71 yards. "Our game plan is always to hit them in the mouth right off the bat and utilize as many people as we can."
Salas caught passes for nine and 28 yards, respectively, to help set up the Warriors' next touchdown, a two-yard rush by Daniel Libre.
But the WSU defense adjusted, holding UH without a touchdown from the 3:19 mark of the first quarter to midway through the third.
In fact, the Cougars seemed poised for a comeback when Dwight Tardy barged his way into the end zone with a one-yard touchdown rush that cut the UH lead to 17-10 with more than eight minutes left in the third.
However, Malcolm Lane returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards to the WSU 48-yard line and David Farmer pulled down a 14-yard pass on the first play of the drive. A sack and penalty cost UH 10 yards, but Alexander and Washington responded in a big way.
On second and 20 from the WSU 44, Washington read the defense and saw an opportunity.
"When I got that pre-snap read, my eyes lit up," Washington said. "I came out as a decoy, posted on the safety and when I looked back, Greg put the ball up. If he's going to put it up in there, I'm going to go and get it."
Alexander appeared to overthrow, but Washington broke down the middle and made up enough ground to make the reception look easy.
"That was a heck of a throw and Mike did a super job of getting to it," Lee said. "The execution was perfect. It was a crucial situation because they were only seven down and they had the momentum turned around. That was the turning point of the game."
It's not every opposing player that earns a hug from UH mascot Chief Vili, but the fierce one made it a point to seek out WSU senior left tackle Vaughn Lesuma after the game. Lesuma and his brother Reed, an offensive lineman, were born in Fiji and raised in La'ie. Both played high school football in Fiji but have fond memories of watching the Warriors. "We grew up watching these guys and it was great to be on this field for the first time," Vaughn Lesuma said. "It wasn't the result that we wanted but I'm excited to be here. These guys got it, so hats off to them. I wish them good luck in the future."
Alexander's 22-yard rush in the Warriors first possession was his career high and it helped UH extend its season-record 97-yard touchdown drive.
Kicker Dan Kelly's surprisingly rough season continued last night as he converted just one of four field goal attempts. Kelly converted one field goal from 22 yards, but missed from 27 and 33 yards. His final attempt, a 48-yarder, was blocked leading to one of the most unusual turns of the season as WSU's Devin Giles recovered then fumbled on an attempted lateral pass to Chima Nwachukwu. On the ensuing UH drive, the Warriors opted to go for the first down on fourth and 11 from the WSU 13, leading to an interception.
With last night's victory, the Warriors improved their record against Pac-10 teams to 13-43. UH has won its last three home games against Pac-10 opponents, including wins over Arizona State in the 2006 Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl and Washington last year.
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.