After coming so close in Weeks 1 and 2, Hawaii finally got a much needed win over FCS Northern Iowa on Saturday at Aloha Stadium, 27-24. The 'Bows picked up their first win of the year after losing the first two games of the season by eight points or less to Pac-12 contenders Washington and Oregon State.
It wasn't Ikaika Woolsey and the Warriors offense that struck first, but Kevin Clune's defense got Hawaii on the board first after Beau Yap recovered a botched snap in the UNI end zone to make it 7-0 Hawaii. Yap's fumble recovery was the first defensive touchdown for UH this season.
UNI responded quickly with Sawyer Kollmorgen sneaking in from one yard out after hitting Billy Williams over the middle for a 58-yard gain down to the Hawaii 6, knotting the game at 7-7 mid first quarter.
After stalling on the first three drives of the game, Woolsey completed his first pass in the second quarter with a big 50-yard completion to Marcus Kemp to get the 'Bows offense going. A reverse to Keenan Ewaliko moved the Warriors into the red zone for the first time, but they couldn't go any further and they settled for a Tyler Hadden 36-yarder to take a 10-7 lead over the Panthers.
Hawaii was driving with momentum after a converted fake punt on 4th and 1, but a fumble on the next play to give UNI the ball on the UH 38. The 'Bows defense held strong and forced a 3 and out to give the ball back to Woolsey and the Hawaii offense. The sophomore led the Warriors down from their own 20 in four plays in about a minute to push the lead to 17-7, hitting Harold Moleni from 15 yards out for his first touchdown of his college career.
An ugly (and I do mean ugly) third quarter from each team was salvaged when Steven Lakalaka took handoff from Jeremy Higgins 30 yards on a misdirection to but Hawaii up 24-10 to send the game into the final stanza. How ugly was this quarter? Before Lakalaka's touchdown, both teams combined for 40 yards on 35 plays. Norm Chow decided to give Senior Jeremy Higgins a chance to run the offense the rest of the game, the first time he's played in almost a year. He would finish the day with 36 yards on 3/6 passing.
The fourth quarter started with Kollmorgen leading the Panthers down the field on a 7 play, 78 yard drive, pulling UNI within a score at 24-17 after a Kevin Vereen 9-yard TD pass.
Neither team could get the offense going throughout the fourth, combining for six straight punts to start the fourth quarter. Scott Harding's rugby style punting came through on the last punt when it bounced off a Panther and was recovered by Ne'Quan Phillips to give Hawaii the ball just outside the UNI red zone with five minutes left in the game. Lakalaka took over from there and put Hadden in good enough position to nail a 37-yard field goal to put the 'Bows up 27-17 late in the fourth.
The Panthers wouldn't go down without a fight, driving the length of the field behind a 34-yard David Johnson catch to move into the Hawaii 20, capping off the drive with Kollmorgen hitting Darrian Miller on a screen pass to keep UNI alive at 27-24 with just under two minutes to go.
UNI tried the onside kick following the score, but the UH hands team came through and Steven Lakalaka did the rest, running out the clock for Hawaii's first win of 2014, 27-24 over Northern Iowa.
Saturday's win ends the opening three-game homestand for Hawaii, going 1-2 in the span with losses to Washington and Oregon State earlier in the year. It was a must-win situation for the 'Bows against the Panthers, and Norm Chow and the Warriors answered the call with a win over a top FCS program like Northern Iowa. Here are three things I took away from Hawaii first win of the season:
1. This was the front seven's best performance
After giving up 164 yards on the ground to Oregon State, Saturday's game vs. Northern Iowa would be a chance for the front seven to redeem themselves with a big performance against the #11 (FCS) Northern Iowa and All-American David Johnson. The defense came through early, with Beau Yap jumping on the UNI botched snap to put Hawaii on the board first against UNI. Now came the task of shutting down Johnson, and they didn't disappoint, holding him to 46 yards on the ground and keeping the Panthers to 1.5 YPC on Saturday night. I'm still impressed with what this defense has done, and things are still looking up for Kevin Clune's new 3-4 defense this year
2. There isn't a QB Controversy in Hawaii...yet.
While Woolsey didn't have the best numbers vs. Northern Iowa, (14/30, 188, 1 TD), I still believe he had the better game out of the two quarterbacks who saw the field Saturday. The offense had stalled pretty badly during the third quarter, so I can see why Chow would want to try Higgins to see if there was any change. I still think Woolsey is the best option at quarterback for this team for the future, but if the offense suffers lengthy stalls like what we saw saturday often, we may see Coach Chow more willing to rotate in Higgins and possibly Taylor Graham.
3. Steven Lakalaka will be fine until Joey Iosefa returns
I was concerned with how the rushing attack would fare in the absence of Joey Iosefa, who suffered an ankle injury last week vs. Oregon State, but Steven Lakalaka showed against the Panthers that he is a more than worthy replacement. Lakalaka finished the night with 32 carries for 124 yards and a score, which I would consider a very "Iosefa-like" stat-line. He's not going to run over everyone for 5-6 a carry often, but he's got speed through the gaps and size that can make him just as big a threat as Iosefa is. I expect he'll receive some of the same workload he had vs. Northern Iowa, so that rushing attack for the Warriors will be fine for now.
Hawaii hits the road for the first time this season with a trip to Colorado on the schedule this Saturday, with kickoff at 12pm MT.