With former backup Jason Whieldon starting, the Warriors struggled and fell behind the Houston Cougars in the first half of Thursday afternoon's Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
After an injury to Whieldon, former starter Tim Chang stepped in and had a relatively successful performance. Chang, a junior, completed 26-of-42 attempts for 475 yards and five touchdowns, leading Hawaii in a 54-48, three-overtime win over the explosive Cougars.
A boisterous crowd of 25,551 watched at Aloha Stadium. Hawaii finished the season 9-5 overall. Houston, of Conference USA, finished 7-6. "The best thing is, the team stuck together. I'm very proud of the team," Chang said.
Chang, selected Player of the Game for Hawaii by media, faced a relentless Houston defense. The Cougars sacked him five times and intercepted him once.
Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb, who threw just four interceptions all year, was picked off twice by Hawaii cornerback Kevin Millhouse. Kolb finished 19-of-34 for 332 yards with two touchdowns.
Vincent Marshall, who tied the game with an 81-yard touchdown catch and run with 22 seconds left in overtime, had seven receptions for 157 yards for Houston. Chad McCullar added 103 yards on five catches.
Jackie Battle, a 250-pound freshman, rushed for 124 yards on 19 attempts to lead Houston's ground attack. Anthony Evans added 66 yards on 22 carries. In all, the Cougars rushed for 185 yards on 54 tries. Houston amassed 517 total yards.
Leading Hawaii's receiving corps was Jason Rivers, who caught seven passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns, including a 61-yard scoring play. Jeremiah Cockheran had five receptions for 162 yards, and Britton Komine had seven catches for 73 yards and one score.
"It was fun, a lot of fun, just like a video game," Cockheran said. "We had confidence that they couldn't stop us, especially at the end of the game."
Mike Brewster rushed for a team-high 79 yards on 14 carries to lead Hawaii's ground attack. The Warriors rushed for 114 yards on 38 attempts and finished with 641 total yards.
The game was marred at its conclusion by a bench-clearing fracas at midfield. A number of Cougars and Warriors swung helmets and fists at each other, but no injuries were reported. "It's disappointing. The referees let it get out of control during the game with the taunting," Hawaii head coach June Jones said. "I told them in the middle of the third quarter. If you don't control it, it'll get out of control. That's inevitable."
University of Hawaii at Manoa Athletic Director Herman Frazier measured his words cautiously. "It seemed like everything was under control. They were bring out the stand for the trophy," he said. "Normally, we get the coaches to handle that type of situation, but I don't know what happened. I've got to look at the film. There's no place for that in collegiate sports."
Jones said his relationship with the University of Houston is intact. "I'm proud of our kids, but I'm more proud of their kids and what they've done. They're going in the right direction. They're a tough team to defend."
The Cougar offense was fluid from the start. The Cougars drove 73 yards to paydirt. Kolb finished off the drive with a 34-yard touchdown pass to McCullar. Dustin Bell's extra-point kick gave Houston a 7-0 lead with 11:53 left in the first quarter.
Hawaii went three-and-out on its first possession, and the Cougars responded with another score. The Cougars drove to the Hawaii 7-yard line before stalling, and Bell drilled a 21-yard field goal. Houston led 10-0 with 9:05 to play in the opening quarter.
Nolan Miranda's 19-yard field goal with 5:48 remaining in the first quarter finally put the Warriors on the scoreboard.
Whieldon set Chang up for a little success. Whieldon sustained a shoulder injury while scrambling for a first down, and Chang stepped in—cold. On his first play, he fired a bullet deep over the middle, connecting with Clifton Herbert on a skinny post for a 48-yard touchdown strike. "He stepped in and he was hot," Cockheran said. "From there on he showed leadership."
Ayat's PAT kick barely made it through the uprights, and the game was tied at 10 early in the second quarter.
Freshman Jackie Battle, a 250-pound fullback, leaped over for a 2-yard touchdown moments later, giving Houston a 17-10 lead.
The Cougars proved far more consistent offensively. With seven minutes to play in the half, they lined up in a mix of formations, including a double-tight end set, and ran the ball with authority.
Bell chipped in a 36-yard field goal—with at least 20 yards to spare—and Houston led 20-10 with 4:42 left in the half.
Chang answered with a beautiful 45-yard strike to Cockheran to give Hawaii first down at the Houston 14. The Cougars stifled Hawaii's drive, and Miranda's 29-yard kick wobbled through the uprights to cut the score to 20-13 with 1:53 remaining in the half.
Neither team mustered much of a drive in the final two minutes. "They started playing our tendencies, and we countered them. And when they adjusted, we would counter again," Chang said. "It's just a cat-and-mouse game."
Houston, which ran 25 times for 85 yards, had a distinct advantage in time of possession in the opening half, 18:22 to 11:38. The Cougars amassed 273 total yards by halftime on 44 plays. Hawaii had 216 total yards in 27 plays.
Kolb completed 12-of-19 attempts for 188 yards with no interceptions. Whieldon was 3-of-5 for 52 yards before his injury. Chang completed 4-of-8 attempts for 109 yards without a pick.
The tempo picked up in the opening moments of the second half. Facing a dime package with no blitz, Chang fired a strike on the fly to Cockheran for 64 yards. That gave the Warriors first down at the Houston 4-yard line. Three plays later, Michael Brewster darted in from the 1-yard line for Hawaii's second touchdown. Miranda drilled the PAT attempt to tie the game at 20 with 13:23 remaining in the third quarter.
After exchanging punts, Hawaii seemed to be on the move when Chang connected with Se'e Poumele for a pair of big gains. On the second pass, however, Poumele gained 16 yards, but took a big hit and fumbled. Roshawn Pope recovered for the Cougars at the Houston 30-yard line.
Moments later, on second-and-1, Houston failed to get first down. Kolb threw an incomplete pass, and then eluded a big rush before throwing an interception right at Kevin Millhouse, who kept both feet inbounds for the pick. Hawaii took over at the Houston 48-yard line.
A pass interference call against Houston cornerback Stanford Routt gave Hawai first down at the 28, and Chang connected with Herbert for 14 yards on a quick out pattern. On third-and-3, Chang rolled a bit to his left and had plenty of time to find Rivers on an in route in the end zone. The 7-yard touchdown pass gave Hawaii the lead for the first time.
Miranda's PAT kick made it 27-20, Hawaii, with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Moments later, Houston was in trouble. The Cougars stopped exploiting Hawaii's weaknesses, electing instead to run up the middle with Battle for a 1-yard loss. On second down, Kolb lofted a bomb that was easily picked off by Millhouse, who was tackled quickly at the Hawaii 19-yard line.
Hawaii's offensive line, which gave up a sack to a four-man rush early in the third quarter, stepped up big. Chang got plenty of protection and launched a bomb to Rivers, who was wide open down the left sideline for a 61-yard pickup. That gave the Warriors first down at the Houston 8-yard line.
Linebacker Gus Zavaletta sacked Chang for a 15-yard loss on the ensuing play. Chang's next pass over the middle was too high, and safety Will Gulley picked it off at the 5. He returned the pigskin 32 yards to thwart Hawaii's drive.
The Cougars marched downfield with little resistance. Kolb connected with Jonathan Pritchett for a huge gain across the middle, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Battle. Bell's PAT tied the game at 27 with 14:18 left in the game.
Houston's defense, sitting back for much of the second and third quarters, revved up. The Cougars blitzed and sacked Chang twice in a row, but on third-and-28, the junior fired a bullet to Cockheran on a deep curl near the sideline for a first down at the Hawaii 40.
The Cougars nearly had Chang for another sack at midfield, but he twisted away and ad-libbed a shovel pass to Brewster for a 41-yard gain to the Houston 19. Two plays after Chang connected with Britton for a 17-yard gain, Chang fired a 4-yard touchdown pass to Rivers near the left corner of the end zone. Miranda's boot gave Hawaii a 34-27 lead with 8:51 remaining.
Houston's offensive playcalling continued to perplex. The Cougars ran a dive up the middle that lost a yard, and then a speed option that lost six yards. After Kolb's pass downfield to Battle fell incomplete, the Cougars punted back to the Warriors.
Houston eventually got the back and drove to the Hawaii 15-yard line. On fourth-and-5, Kolb rolled right and misfired on a pass to wide receiver Roland Cola. Hawaii regained possession with 5:21 remaining.
Hawaii turned the tables on Houston, running the ball, eating time off the clock. Chang hit Welch for 10 yards on third down to keep the chains moving. Two plays later, they connected again on the same in route for another first down. Brewster picked up 12 yards around the right side as Houston's defense appeared to wear down in the final minutes.
That's when the game got a little more interesting. Hawaii drove to the Houston 12-yard line, and on third-and-goal, Chang's pass attempt to Komine fell incomplete with just over a minute left. Arguably, the Warriors could have taken a knee and ate another 25 seconds off the clock because Houston was out of time outs.
Instead, Miranda lined up for a 29-yard field-goal attempt. Whielded fielded a low snap but couldn't get the placement square, and Miranda's attempt wobbled wide left, giving Houston new life with 58 seconds to play.
Houston took over at its own 20, and on third-and-11, Kolb fired a quick pass to Marshall on the fly. Marshall had only one man to beat, and galloped 81 yards for a touchdown with 22 seconds to play. The Cougars kicked the extra point, and the game was tied at 34. "We wanted to go for two, but coach figured we had momentum," Battle said.
"I was looking at the linebacker, and after I caught the ball, I was looking for the safety," Marshall said. He beat David Gilmore on his way for a jaw-dropping score. "We practice it a lot, but that's the first time we ran it in a game."
Hawaii had the ball at its 25-yard line after the kickoff return. After an incomplete pass, Chang took a knee to run the clock out.
Hawaii got the ball to start the first overtime, and the Warriors were efficient. Chang fired an 11-yard touchdown pass to Komine, and Miranda's PAT kick made it 41-34.
The Cougars were equally efficient, grinding out yardage on the ground. Anthony Evans powered his way to a 6-yard touchdown run, and Bell's extra point tied the game at 41.
Houston got the ball back to open the second overtime, and drove with success. Battle capped the drive with a 4-yard blast off the left side, and the PAT gave Houston a 48-41 lead.
Hawaii answered moments later as Chang fired an 18-yard pass to Rivers in the end zone. The PAT kick was tipped, but made it over the crossbar to tie the game at 48.
In overtime No. 3, Brewster rambled around the right side and scored on an 8-yard run. By rule, Hawaii had to go for two points on the PAT. Chang's pass over the middle to Komine was intercepted by Gulley.
Houston struggled in its ensuing possession, running twice for little yardage. An illegal procedure call pushed Houston back, and the Cougars faced a third-and-10. Kolb completed a 5-yard pass to Brandon Middleton near the sideline to set up fourth-and-5.
"We knew they had to go for an efficient pass. It was man (defense) across the board," Millhouse said.
The Warriors flushed him out of the pocket on the next play, and Kolb's pass to Marshall was good for only two yards, ending the game. "Leonard (Peters) made a good play," Millhouse said of the safety.
Chang, the last to speak at the post-game press conference, had mixed feelings about the way things turned out. "I feel bad for Jason, knowing it was his last game. I wish he played and I sat," he said. "This season didn't turn out the way we wanted. Things have to be corrected."
He would not offer any predictions about next year. "All I know is I'll be working hard in the off-season and have a good work ethic," Chang said. "It's great to give back to the people who come to see us every game."
Houston 10 10 00 14 14—48
Hawaii 03 10 14 07 20—54