For the second consecutive season, the Crimson Tide will end its season in Hawaii. Last year, the Tide hung on to earn a 21-16 victory. Hawaii is 5-0 in Aloha Stadium this year. Hawaii is 7-4 overall and is 5-2 in the Western Athletic Conference. With a 59-28 victory over Army last week, the Warriors clinched a berth in the Hawaii Bowl.
This will be the third time in the last five years that Hawaii has gone bowling.
The Warriors are led by Coach June Jones, a man who more than likely saved a struggling Hawaii program from extinction. In the five years prior to Jones' arrival at UH, the team had posted only five victories and had not sent a player to the NFL. This is Jones' fifth year as the head man at Hawaii, and in his tenure the Warriors have posted 38 wins and five of his players have been drafted by NFL teams.
One interesting aspect of the Hawaii coaching staff is the brother team of Ron and Cal Lee. Cal, the younger of two, was the head coach at St. Louis School in Waipahu that is home of Warriors quarterback Timmy Chang (as well as the first ever Hawaii state football championship in 1999). When Ron left his coaching position at Willamette University, he joined his younger brother as offensive coordinator at St. Louis. The elder Lee coaches the wide receivers at Hawaii, while Cal handles the linebackers (and is also head coach of the Hawaii Islanders of the arenafootball2 league).
Warriors quarterback Timmy Chang (6-2, 205) entered this season as a Heisman hopeful, but an early academic-related suspension, as well as several small injuries, have probably eliminated the junior from consideration this year. But that doesn't mean he lacks impressive credentials. Chang has thrown for over 3500 yards, putting him only 2841 yards behind BYU's Ty Detmer for the title of the leading career NCAA passer. He has thrown 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in his 10 games, which is fairly efficient considering that he has put the ball in the air a total of 517 times this year.
Adding to his scholastic and injury problems earlier this season, Chang also lost his best receiver to suspension for two games (Rice and Tulsa). Chad Owens (5-9, 177, Jr), playing in just nine games, is a thousand-yard receiver and has crossed the goal line eight times for the Warriors. His ability to catch the ball will be of paramount importance for Hawaii, especially since Chang's other prime target, senior Jeremiah Cockheran (6-0, 193), is slowed by an ankle injury. Cockheran has been struggling with his ankle since early in the year, but has still managed to rack up 44 catches and six touchdowns.
The Warriors don't run the ball much, but they do have 14 rushing touchdowns. However, their leading ground scorer, West Keliikipi (6-1, 266, Jr), is out for the rest of the year with a knee injury. He started six games before the injury occurred. The bruising back, a transfer from Dixie College in Utah, had six touchdowns for Hawaii before falling to injury. Tailback John West (5-10, 180, Sr) is more of a quick scrambler and leads the team in rushing yards with 341, but hasn't started a game. He is bracketed at running back with Mike Bass (5-7, 174, Jr) and Michael Brewster (5-6, 180, Jr).
Defensively, the Warriors have given up 161.1 yards per game on the ground. However, the front four is noticeably bigger than the line that Bama faced on the islands last season. Senior tackles Issac Sopoaga (6-3, 336) and Lance Samuseva (6-0, 310) provide as much beef up front as will be found in the WAC. Along with with ends Houston Ala (5-11, 260, Sr) and Travis LaBoy (6-4, 254), both also seniors, Hawaii has a very experienced defensive line.
Sopoaga was an All-WAC selection last year, but has been slowed this year by injuries. LaBoy might take his place on that All-WAC squad. The rangy California native has 11 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss this season and is fifth on the team in total tackles.
The Warriors' leading tackler is weakside linebacker Ikaika Curnan (5-11, 218, So), who has 90 stops on the year.
The Hawaii secondary is shored up by All-WAC strong safety Hyram Peters (5-8, 188, Sr). Although small, Peters is a very physical player. Second on the team with 74 tackles, Peters has one interception and nine pass breakups this year.
Hawaii also starts seniors at free safety and right cornerback with David Gilmore (6-0, 197) and Kevin Millhouse (6-1, 105). The other starting corner, Abraham Elimimian (5-10, 173, Jr), leads the team with three interceptions.
Redshirt freshman Kurt Milne (5-11, 199) handles the punting duties for the Warriors. He is averaging 39.7 yards a kick in his first year on the job, and Milne has dropped 12 punts inside the 20. Junior Justin Ayat (5-11, 205) has been very consistent on short field goals this year, but his accuracy drops dramatically as he gets farther from the goalposts. He is 13 of 15 in kicks up to 39 yards, but is only one of six from the 40 and further. Chad Owens returns punts for Hawaii, and John West handles kickoffs.