Warriors' defense played valiantly in defeat to Spartans
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Nearly lost beneath the rubble of the University of Hawai'i football team's offensive collapse against San Jose State last night was the emotional rebirth of the Warrior defense.
After giving up the first score of the game — a 77-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Reed to David Richmond — the UH defense slammed the door on the Spartans, forcing SJSU to punt on its next five possessions of the half.
"I think we finally woke up to the fact that we play a big role in this team's success," said left tackle Keala Watson. "You play how you practice, and we've been practicing with a lot of emotion and intensity these last couple of weeks. That's what we brought out there on the field."
Watson said the first half, particularly the second quarter, was critical in restoring the defense's confidence.
UH's aggressive defense forced SJSU into three consecutive three-and-out possessions to end the half, holding the Spartans to minus-6 yards on third downs.
The second quarter proceeded with much the same, with Jameel Dowling knocking down a pass attempt from Reed to Terrance Williams to force another punt.
SJSU looked to be in good shape at first and 10 on the UH 34, but Joshua Leonard tackled Yonus Davis for a paltry one-yard gain and Ryan Mouton sacked Reed for a seven-yard loss to put SJSU at 3rd-and-16 on the UH 40. On the next play, Reed managed just two yards rushing before being brought down by Adam Leonard and John Fonoti, forcing the Spartans to punt yet again.
"That's what defined the defense tonight," Watson said. "We came out ready to play."
SJSU showed confidence in its offense by going for the first down on consecutive fourth-down situations to start the third quarter. Dowling tackled Coye Francies for no gain to kill the first attempt, and Keao Monteilh knocked down a pass from Reed to Richmond to squelch the second.
"We were just trying to defend our (Western Athletic Conference) championship," Monteilh said. "They were coming into our house and trying to take it from us, so we had to do what we had to do. Every time somebody made a big play, we got pumped."
And so did the crowd, reviving recently abandoned cries of "Defense!" at each critical juncture.
Late in the third, SJSU took advantage of great field position, created when Kyler O'Neal stripped UH quarterback Inoke Funaki and recovered on the UH 8-yard-line, to score its second touchdown. But the UH defense kept its composure, forcing SJSU to win the game on a pair of career-long field goals by Jared Strubeck.
"We played together, we played with emotion and we played with love for each other," said senior linebacker Solomon Elimimian. "That's what carried us all last year. In practice, we came together as brothers and took it on ourselves to understand that if they can't score, they can't win, no matter what kind of field position they have.
"Our defense has got to lead this team, and that's what we're going to do," Elimimian said. "Tonight, the team fed off of us. The crowd had our back the whole night. It's fun playing with love for each other. This team grew as a team tonight. We might not have won in the stats, but we earned a lot of victories in other areas tonight."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.