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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 28, 2008


Photo gallery: UH vs. San Jose State first half
Photo gallery: UH vs San Jose State second half

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.com Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

San Jose State defensive tackle Pablo Garcia, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound freshman, has Hawai'i quarterback Inoke Funaki in a bear hug as he makes a tackle in the second quarter.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

San Jose State's Jordan La Secla, left, and Ronnie Castillo celebrate as the time winds down on the University of Hawai'i in the Western Athletic Conference opener for both.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"Our defense has got to lead this team, and that's what we're going to do."
SOLOMON ELIMIMIAN | University of Hawai'i linebacker

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"We sort of gave it away. We sort of beat ourselves."
Greg McMackin | University of Hawai'i head coach

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San Jose State's night to remember was Hawai'i's nightmare to forget.

The Spartans made the most of the Warriors' six turnovers five in the second half to rally for a 20-17 victory in Aloha Stadium.

The Warriors stumbled in their first step toward defending their 2007 Western Athletic Conference championship. Not only did they fall to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the WAC, they also might be without defensive tackle Rocky Savaiigaea for the rest of the season. He suffered an apparent tear of his recently mended right triceps.

In their somber locker room, quarterback Tyler Graunke said: "We lost as a team. It sucks."

Center John Estes added: "We can't turn the ball over six times. That's what it came down to. They didn't beat us. We beat ourselves."

To be sure, the Spartans took advantage of every second chance.

Jared Strubeck, who had struggled with his placekicks through the season's first four games and three quarters, provided the tying and decisive field goals from 50 and 47 yards, respectively.

"It felt great," said Strubeck, who entered the game unsuccessful on five of eight attempts this season.

He also missed his first attempt last night, from 47 yards, with the Spartans trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter.

"We never gave up on him," SJSU quarterback Kyle Reed said. "We knew he had it in him. He made big plays for us."

Strubeck tied it at 17 with a career-long field goal of 50 yards with 9:32 to play. It also was the Spartans' farthest field goal in 13 years.

He then won it with 1:49 remaining when his attempt from 47 yards was true.

"I made it for the team," Strubeck said. "I had to do my part. I was happy to contribute."

It appeared the Spartans were ready to contribute to the Warriors' success.

After the Spartans took a 7-0 lead on a trick play Reed caught a lateral and then fired a pass to wide-open David Richmond to complete a 77-yard play the Warriors seized control.

Kealoha Pilares, the Warriors' reluctant running back, rushed for two touchdowns. On the first, which covered 34 yards, Pilares found a crease between two trap blocks on the left side.

On the second, he found the end zone from a yard out.

But Pilares was struck on the helmet at the end of that play, suffering what is believed to be a slight concussion.

"I got hit on the top of the head," Pilares said.

He did not play after that, depriving the Warriors of their best rusher. Although Pilares was the team's leading rusher last year, he prefers to play slotback. He was a receiver in spring training and training camp before being summoned after several running backs suffered injuries.

With Daniel Libre, Leon Wright-Jackson and David Farmer medically cleared to play last night, Pilares was expected to shift back to slotback. Those plans, likely set for the second half, were derailed because of the head injury.

And without wideout Malcolm Lane, who suffered a concussion in the opening series, the Warriors' 17-7 halftime lead was written in chalk.

The Warriors also went with quarterback Inoke Funaki, who is best when he is on the move. The past two weeks UH had a bye last weekend were spent honing a revised offense with Funaki in mind. The Warriors added bootlegs, rollouts and, when the defense cramped the tackle box, play-action passes.

The longer Funaki could go, the more rest for Tyler Graunke, who is recovering from an injury to his right (throwing) hand.

"(Graunke) was still struggling (in practices)," offensive coordinator Ron Lee said, "and Funaki had a couple of good weeks of practices."

The Warriors had the momentum when they stopped the Spartans on downs on the first possession of the second half.

But then Funaki could not connect on a pass to slotback Aaron "Yoda" Bain. The pass was intercepted.

"Yoda was there," Funaki said. "I just underthrew it."

Later, Funaki, at UH's 21, rolled to the left to pass. He pumped faked, but on his follow through, airborne linebacker Kyler O'Neal kicked the football from Funaki's grasp. O'Neal recovered at the UH 10.

Three plays later, Reed threw to tight end Jeff Clark in the right corner of the end zone, closing the Spartans to 17-14.

The Warriors' next possession ended with another lost fumble, this time by wideout Royce Pollard after a 15-yard catch.

Although the Spartans' ensuing possession ended with Strubeck's missed field goal, the tone was set.

"We kept putting our defense in bad positions," Estes said. "Our defense played (its) ass off. They (the Spartans) had the ball at the 20-yard line, the 30-yard line, the 10-yard line."

UH linebacker Solomon Elimimian said: "We have no excuses. That's our motto. We love the challenge."

Funaki's night ended with his third interception, which cornerback Coye Francies grabbed along the left sideline. Wideout Greg Salas was supposed to run a fade-and-stop route. But Salas raced past Francies.

"It was a bad communication," Funaki said. "He was going over the top, and I was thinking he would come back for it."

That led to Strubeck's tying field goal and the call for Graunke.

In UH's second game, Graunke rallied the Warriors to victory in the second half against Weber State.

But there would be no storybook finish this time.

Graunke was sacked for a 13-yard loss on third down. The Warriors brought in kicker Dan Kelly for a 55-yard attempt. Kelly ended a mini slump with a field goal in the first half, but this time, the kick was well short.

"It was a 100 percent shank," Kelly said. "It was just a bad kick on my part. I over-thought the kick. I came in too fast. As soon as I kicked it, I knew it wasn't going anywhere."

On UH's next possession, Graunke was intercepted, leading to the Spartans' decisive drive.

"I couldn't get it done," Graunke said. "I got put in a situation to get it done, to win the game, and I didn't. My hand had nothing to do with it. I felt fine."

Funaki, who was sitting next to Graunke in the locker room, said: "I take responsibility for it. The ball slipped out of my hand (on the fumble). The picks, so many. It doesn't matter who you play, you turn the ball over that many times, and then you give your defense no rest ... it was a tough loss."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.