Warriors bounce back with 55-28 rout of Fresno St.

It wasn't a perfect performance, but for a Warrior team reeling from a loss at Tulsa, Saturday's 55-28 win over Fresno State was timely. Who's going to argue with a defense that sacked Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar five times, or an offense that produced 549 total yards?

HALAWA— Tim Chang passed for 353 yards and Hawaii used a 28-point second quarter to overwhelm Fresno State, 55-28, Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.

Chang completed 40-of-60 attempts for five touchdowns—four in the first half—and did not throw an interception in perhaps his finest performance of the season. Hawaii improved to 2-1 in Western Athletic Conference play (3-3 overall). The Warriors need to win four of its last seven games to be bowl-eligible.

The junior signal-caller also literally passed the 10,000-yard career total mark. "I don't think he thinks about any records. I know I'm certainly not. If he keeps going out and executing like he's doing, we're going to have some success," said Hawaii head coach June Jones, who set some records of his own as a prolific Run & Shoot passer at Portland state three decades ago.

Fresno State dropped to 1-1 in WAC play (3-4 overall). The Bulldog offense was erratic despite amassing 382 total yards. Paul Pinegar completed 25-of-38 attempts for 242 yards and three touchdowns—and no interceptions. But the Warriors sacked him five times, including two by Travis LaBoy. It was a superlative performance by the UH defense, especially with defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga resting with a knee injury.

Linebacker Ikaika Curnan led Hawaii's defense with 12 tackles. Cornerback Abraham Eliminian added nine tackles and Keani Alapa had eight.

Fresno State's dangerous deep threat, Bernard Berrian, had just four receptions for 38 yards. He also muffed a punt return in the third quarter, compounding the Bulldogs' difficulties.

"Here's the problem," Fresno State head coach Pat Hill said. "When we try to get into a scoring game with these guys, it's a little bit different. When it was 14-10, if we could've kept it going on second-and-10, and maybe forced another kick, that would've been the third in a row, you know, and it's a different game. As soon as that thing got out of hand, we're trying to get into a scoring contest. That's not our style. What they did was they got the lead; we tried to claw back into it, but we just couldn't."

Running back West Keli'ikipi continued to solidify his place as one of the WAC's top running backs. He rushed for 67 yards on seven carries—all in the first half. He also caught five passes for 34 yards in a solid all-around performance. He sat out the second half with a strained knee.

"When you're out there playing a lot of press like we were, you know, you're vulnerable to that," Hill said. "(Chang) hurt us. Can't take it all away. They can run the ball well with him."

Jones sees a bright future for Keli'ikipi. "Every week, he keeps getting better. I think he's playing himself into football shape. When you really think about it, he didn't really have a training camp," he said.

"The coaches, you know, worked on me, and Coach Jones just offered me a scholarship, you know, so I'm stoked. I can actually play," Keli'ikipi said. "In camp, I lost a little bit of weight so I'm more shifty, and the coaches were working with me on my jukes, and that helped me a lot.

Gerald Welch turned in his best stats of the season with nine receptions for 115 yards. Chad Owens, in his return after a two-game suspension, had seven receptions for 62 yards. Jason Rivers added five catches for 36 yards and Britton Komine tallied four catches for 25 yards.

Chang was pinpoint accurate much of the night, which was a must because deep threat Jeremiah Cockheran sat out with an ankle injury. Without Cockheran to stretch the defense, Fresno State went to man coverage, but Chang and his improving corps of receivers clicked most of the night.

Hawaii finished with 549 total yards and just one turnover. Fresno State fumbled three times, not including a muffed punt return. Fresno State's defense got to Chang for just one sack.

Hill, a veteran coach, always keeps a sense of balance on and off the field. "The kids competed. I think Paul (Pinegar, who passed for 242 yards and three touchdowns) played well tonight, and, uh…I think there are some good things to be salvaged out of this. It's just two weeks in a row, we've run into teams with their backs against the wall in must-win situations and pitchers that were hot," Hill said of Colorado State and Hawaii. "It's just been that way for us this year."

The opening quarter was a carnival of action. The Warriors opened the game with a 47-yard kickoff return by John West. That set up a five-play, 53-yard drive orchestrated by Chang. He completed passes to Jason Rivers (13 yards) and Chad Owens (18, 5 yards) before finding slotback Gerald Welch on a loop route on the left side. Welch snuck his way to the sideline and Chang found him wide open for an easy 22-yard scoring strike.

Justin Ayat's PAT kick gave Hawaii a 7-0 lead with 13:31 to play in the opening quarter.

The Bulldogs gave the ball back to Hawaii moments later. On their second play from scrimmage, tailback Dwayne Wright dropped a toss from quarterback Paul Pinegar, and defensive end Travis LaBoy recovered for Hawaii at the Fresno State 41-yard line.

Chang connected with 266-pound running back for 7 yards and 13 yards on swing passes as Hawaii drove deep into Fresno territory. The march stalled and Ayat drilled a 31-yard field goal from the left hashmark. Hawaii led 10-0 with 10:11 remaining.

The Bulldogs scored on their ensuing possession. Adam Jennings raced around right end, ran through a tackler and bolted 57 yards down the right sideline to the Hawaii 23. Two plays later, Pinegar found tight end Mark Wood wide open on a streak route for a 28-yard touchdown. Brett Visintainer's extra-point kick cut the lead to 10-7 with 8:36 to go in the first quarter.

Both offenses stalled on their next possessions. Fresno State had fourth down with less than a yard to go, but head coach Pat Hill elected to punt. His decision proved wise. Hawaii drove from its own 35 to the Fresno 29 on five consecutive completions by Chang. As the second quarter opened, however, Jones inserted Se'e Poumele, a converted quarterback, at slot. He took a handoff from Chang, looked downfield for a receiver and promptly lost the football. Defensive end Brian Morris stripped the ball loose, and cornerback Awan Diles scooped up the pigskin. Diles returned the ball 24 yards to the Hawaii 36.

Hawaii's defense stiffened, forcing a third-and-15 for the Bulldogs from the Hawaii 19. Bernard Berrian, however, came up with a 19-yard catch on a post pattern for Fresno State's second touchdown. Visintainer's PAT kick lifted Fresno to a 14-10 lead with 12:50 to go before halftime.

The Warriors ended their offensive rut with help from the Bulldogs. Facing second-and-20 from the UH 16-yard line, Chang dropped back and took a late hit, which resulted in a roughing-the-passer call. That automatic first down seemed to ignite the offense. Chang completed three passes in a row, while West Keli'ikipi ran for a 7-yarder and John West picked up 21 yards to the Fresno State 9. Chang then found Owens on a post route in the back of the end zone to give Hawaii the lead once again. Ayat's PAT made it 17-14 with 9:56 left in the half.

The Bulldogs went to their ground attack and marched from their own 35 to the Hawaii 20. The Warriors buckled down, however, and Fresno attempted a 37-yard field goal. Tony Akpan, a 6-foot-8 lineman, blocked the kick. The Warriors returned the loose ball to their own 13 to complete a play that was one of the most pivotal in the game.

"Any time you make big plays in the kicking game, it's huge. Tony's been working hard on that. Tony's got a future with us. So does Ikaika Alama-Francis, who got in a little bit today," Jones said of the two basketball players. "I'm excited about the next three years with those guys."

The play by Akpan, who has played basketball for Hawaii the past two years, proved pivotal. Hawaii drove 87 yards in just seven plays. Chang was en fuego, hitting four of his five attempts. Keli'ikipi broke four tackles on his way to a 29-yard gain through mid-field, and Chang found Clifton Herbert for a 31-yard pass play as the Warriors steamrolled downfield. Keli'ikipi bolted through the middle for a relatively easy 9-yard touchdown run, and Hawaii led 24-14 with 4:05 remaining in the half.

Another Fresno State mistake proved costly just two plays into the Bulldogs' ensuing possession. Linebacker Keani Alapa blitzed and nailed Pinegar in the pocket, forcing a fumble. Defensive tackle Lui Fuga recovered for Hawaii at the Fresno State 16-yard line.

Chang found Welch across the middle for a 13-yard gain. Chang then waited and connected with Britton Komine on a post route for his third touchdown pass of the game. Ayat's conversion gave Hawaii a 31-14 lead with 2:38 left in the half.

Hawaii's momentum continued. Fresno punted back to the Warriors with 1:16 remaining. Keli'ikipi was a key once again, racing past a blitzing free safety for a 16-yard gain. Chang used play-action and connected with Welch on a 16-yard pass play to the Fresno 1-yard line. Fresno State stuffed a pair of dives up the middle by Keli'ikipi before Chang used play-action again, tossing to Michael Brewster for his fourth touchdown pass of the first half. Ayat's PAT kick gave Hawaii a resounding 38-14 lead with 21 seconds remaining before intermission.

Despite Fresno State's success on the ground, Hawaii's four sacks helped swing the momentum back to the Warriors.

Hawaii amassed 338 total yards by halftime. Chang was 29-of-37 for 261 yards without an interception.

Fresno State had 226 total yards after one half. Pinegar was 12-of-17 for 140 yards with no interceptions.

The Bulldogs stalled on their opening possession of the second half, but forced Hawaii to punt. Berrian, normally a sure-handed return man, saw Kurt Milne's end-over-end punt tumble near the sideline. Berrian took a chance and reached for the ball as it bounced back toward the middle of the field. He touched the ball, never gaining control, and Hawaii's Gary Wright pounced on the pigskin at the Fresno 22-yard line.

Chang was sacked for an 11-yard loss, but connected with Owens for 13 yards and Welch for 24 more. For a second time, Welch's effort gave Hawaii first down at the 1-yard line. After Mike Bass was brought down in the backfield, Chang fired a 5-yard touchdown pass to Owens, who tumbled over a Bulldog at the goal line for the score. Chang's fifth touchdown pass gave the Warriors a 45-14 lead with 9:08 to play in the third quarter.

Berrian answered with a 48-yard kickoff return—he fielded the ball three yards behind the goal line—to set up Fresno's next scoring drive. The Bulldogs drove 52 yards in eight plays. Fullback Bryson Sumlin's 1-yard plunge brought the Bulldogs with 45-21 with 6:26 remaining in the third.

Ayat added a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the third quarter as Hawaii took a 48-21 lead.

The Bulldogs drove 73 yards in 15 plays to start the fourth quarter. The drive, punctuated by short dump-off passes, culminated with a 2-yard play-action pass from Pinegar to tight end Alec Greco. Fresno State trailed 48-28 with 5:32 remaining in the game. The drive consumed 6:23.

The Warriors stalled on their ensuing drive and set up to punt from the Fresno State 43. The Bulldogs lined up to block the punt, but up back Chad Kapanui took the snap and lobbed a pass to David Gilmore, who raced to the end zone untouched for an easy touchdown. Ayat's PAT gave Hawaii a 55-28 lead with 4:28 left to play.

The Warriors ended the game by taking a knee at the Fresno State 1-yard line.


Warrior Sports Network Top Stories