By Ryan Hope
While junior cornerback Jernaro Gilford has been on the sidelines waiting for his knee to heal, BYU”s second- and third-string defensive backs have been filling in quite nicely for the starter.
Last week against Syracuse, sophomore cornerback Brady Poppinga was making big plays. Against Hawaii, it was junior cornerback Kip Nielsen”s two interceptions that slowed down Hawaii.
Nielsen”s pick aided in BYU avenging last year”s embarrassing loss to Hawaii by defeating the Warriors 35-32, Friday September 6.
“We obviously would have liked to have put more points on the board and beat them by more than we did, but a win is a win,” junior linebacker Levi Madarieta said.
While the Cougar passing game sputtered through the first half, Whalen kept the team running.
He rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. He also had three receptions for 32 yards.
“We wanted to establish the running game this week and Coach [Paul] Tidwell [BYU running backs coach] said I was going to get a lot of carries,” Whalen said.
Whalen”s effectiveness running the ball compensated for junior quarterback Bret Engemann”s off night throwing the ball. Engemann connected on only 21 of 46 passes for 226 yards and 1 touchdown.
“I just had a bad game,” Engemann said. “The quick passes weren”t there, they rolled their coverages different than we expected, and they jammed our receivers pretty good.”
BYU”s offense and special teams struggled early on.
After the Warriors missed their first field goal, BYU went three and out. A bad snap on the punt attempt gave Hawaii field position at the BYU 38-yard line.
Hawaii scored a field goal on the possession and took a 3-0 lead.
BYU went three and out again on their next possession. On the punt attempt, the snap sailed over kicker Matt Payne”s head and was downed at the BYU 5-yard line.
Two plays later Hawaii scored a touchdown and had 10-0 lead. The Warriors kept the Cougars scoreless the rest of the quarter.
Two minutes and 22 seconds into the second quarter Whalen narrowed the score to 10-7 with a 1-yard touchdown run.
But on its next two offensive possessions the Cougars were still unable to move the ball effectively.
Hawaii increased its lead to 17-7 on senior running back Thero Mitchell”s 4-yard touchdown run with 8:07 left in the first half.
On BYU”s last offensive possession of the half, Engemann hit junior receiver Toby Christensen on a 19-yard touchdown pass to pull the Cougars within three points. The drive covered 80 yards and took 11 plays in which Engemann connected on 5 of 6 passes.
The second half began with a BYU penalty-plagued short offensive series followed by another Hawaii drive deep into BYU territory.
On a crucial third-down play Nielsen intercepted Hawaii sophomore quarterback Timmy Chang”s pass on the BYU 5-yard line. It was Nielsen”s second interception of the game and one of four for the Cougar defense.
Starting on BYU”s own 5-yard line, Engemann connected on five straight passes, taking the Cougars to the Hawaii 12-yard line.
Freshman quarterback Lance Pendleton, BYU”s option specialist, relieved Engemann after an injury. On his first play of the game, Pendleton cut upfield and scored on a 12-yard run giving the Cougars a 21-17 lead. It was the first of two touchdowns for Pendleton.
Junior linebacker Bill Wright intercepted Chang on Hawaii”s next offensive play, and with 2:52 left in the third quarter, Whalen scored his second touchdown of the night on a four-yard run. BYU”s defense tightened up in the third quarter, not giving up any points.
“It”s encouraging to see our defense playing so well,” Engemann said. “It”s a huge momentum boost for us when the defense plays well and we just need to capitalize more.”
In the fourth quarter BYU stretched its lead to 35-24 on Pendleton”s second touchdown. After a late Hawaii score, Reno Mahe recovered an onside kick with less than a minute to play to preserve the 35-32 victory.
“I”m glad that one”s over,” BYU head coach Gary Crowton said. “I think offensively we made a lot of mistakes and I thought the defense played well. It”s a team effort, and we will get better.”
BYU”s next game will be Saturday September 14 at the University of Nevada-Reno. The game will be the first of four consecutive road games for the Cougars. BYU”s next home game will be the homecoming game, October 19 against UNLV.