In the end, the game simply resorted to its beginning - which is to say that Army just couldn't stop Hawaii's passing game.
And the ending was just as startling as the beginning.
With the score tied at 28 in the final minute of the game, Army was marching down field and had a first down at the Hawaii 29. Two minutes to play.
And two minutes later Army lost the game 31-28.
With Trent Steelman knocked out of the game late in the third quarter with an apparent shoulder injury, junior Max Jenkins took control of the offense. All was going well as they came out of the huddle with a third and four on the 23. This would their final drive.
They had plenty of time, and plenty of momentum, as most of the 30,042 at Michie Stadium were ready to head down the hills and finish off their tailgate parties.
Not so fast.
After a delay of game set Army back five yards, a run by Jenkins turned into a fumble. Though the initial call ruled him down before the fumble, a very long replay turned the ball over to Hawaii.
And Hawaii again turned to quarterback Bryant Moniz and his air show. "We always practice our two-minute drills,'' Moniz said. "Twenty seconds left is a lot of time, and it was enough time today.''
He quickly completed passes for 12 yards and then 31 yards, and because they were out of timeouts, Moniz spiked the ball on a first down on the 14. Out came 5-foot-9 senior Scott Enos, who drilled a heartache directly through the yellow uprights.
Was it really a fumble? Instead of Hawaii getting a final chance to win the game on a field goal, would Army have instead won the game on what would have been a 44-yard field attempt?
After all, the kicking team had already trotted onto the field. "It's hard to tell because things are happening 100 miles an hour,'' said Jenkins about his fumble with 24 seconds to play. "Hopefully the refs made the right decision. You just have to move on; there's no point dwelling on it.''
Army, now 1-1, moves on to play North Texas on Saturday, at noon, back at West Point. "Our team took some shots early and bounced back and kept believing and battled and battled and battled. That character, in the absence of a little bit of execution,'' coach Rich Ellerson said, "that character will give us a chance every week we play. And we can build on that.
"We need to find another play,'' he said of the frustrating defeat. ""We need to find another play on offense, on defense and the kicking game. Every phase of the game had a chance to make a difference. Again, we're not talking about two plays or 10 plays, we're talking about 'a' play.''
Middle linebacker Stephen Anderson agreed, saying, "We just didn't come through in critical situations. We are just looking to take that one step to be the team we know we can be.''
Now 1-1, Army will try and do that next Saturday when North Texas comes here for a noon kickoff.
Don't expect North Texas to throw the ball 37 times like the Warriors did.
Hawaii came out throwing like it was a Frisbee contest, putting the ball in the air on 25 of its first 29 plays. On the game's first series the Warriors threw on nine of their 10 plays, an 80-yard drive capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass. After holding Army on a three and out, they marched 50 yards on seven plays for another score. This time six of the seven plays were passes, including an 11-yard toss on a nice catch-and-run inside the five.
The teams exchanged punts into the second quarter, and Army seemed to gain some field advantage when a Jonathan Bulls kick went out of bounds at the 12.
No such luck.
Moniz drove his team 88 yards for another touchdown, this time connecting on all five of his passes. The TD was from 21-yards out on a nice floater down the left sideline, with an in-stride catch by Kealoha Pilares just a few yards from the end zone.
At this point, down 21-0, Army was desperate to put something on the board, even if it was an advertisement for a pass defense. But they responded. "The mindset was very much like it was last week at Eastern Michigan,'' offered fullback Jared Hassin, who in that game scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game. "The team was relying on us to do that. We got the offense huddled up and said, "We're going to do this.' ''
And they did.
A 13-play drive, 12 on the ground, culminated with a four-yard run by sophomore Malcolm Brown. It was the first score of his college career.
A 30-yard kickoff return then set Hawaii up near mid-field, but a face mask penalty and a sack by Josh McNary forced the Warriors into a third-and-30 situation.
They wound up punting, and Army then ran two plays to run out the clock. Not everyone in Michie was happy with that play-calling.
Blame Moniz, who led Hawaii's passing game that totaled 248 yards by halftime.
By comparison, the Black Knights had a total offense of only 99 yards, 83 of it on the ground. But it took only four minutes for the Black Knights to get back into the game, as they took the second half kickoff and drove 68 yards in 10 plays to close the gap to seven points.
Jared Hassin scored his fourth TD of the year, busting right up the gut from 16 yards out. Then, faster than you could say Miracle on the Hudson, Hawaii fumbled the kickoff, and when sophomore Brian Cobbs fell on the ball in a scramble around the 25, Army was poised to tie the game.
The Black Knights were all set to settle for a field goal on a fourth and goal from the two, but an illegal substitution by Hawaii changed Ellerson's mind.
As Army lined up for the play, Steelman didn't like what he saw and called for time. Army liked what they saw on the next snap as Brown took a handoff and went around right end and scored standing.
Just eight minutes into the second half the game was suddenly tied. Of course, Hawaii's offense had yet to trot onto the field.
In n just two plays it wished it hadn't. On a second and 10 at the 28, McNary came up with another sack, and this time the ball came loose. Senior D-tackle Marcus Hilton picked it up and reached the 11.
Three plays later, with Steelman receiving medical attention on the sideline, Jenkins went in from the one.
Incredibly, Army was leading 28-21. "Nothing necessarily spurred it on,'' McNary said. "It wasn't a particular instance, but more of just a mindset. We realized we had given up 21 points and it was time to get the ball on the ground and back into the hands of our offense.''
Eventually Hawaii returned to form, and it took 1:37 to tie the game at 28. A face mask call against Army helped, moving the ball from midfield down to the Army 31. A 28-yard completion set up a three-yard run for a touchdown.
The teams would exchange punts, and Army was up against it when a 58-yard Hawaii punt rolled and bounced and waddled down to the five-yard-line. But Army looked like Hawaii on a first down toss that went for 22 yards, Jenkins to Davyd Brooks.
That ended the third quarter, during which Army out-gained Hawaii 121-63 in total yardage. It also began a very long drive - 17 snaps - that ended on a 37-yard field goal attempt. It was blocked. With 7:02 to play the game remained tied.
Army forced Hawaii into a three and out, and then began what it hoped would be a game-winning drive.
What it turned into was like watching the flight of a balloon. Army could not reach up and knock down passes of 12 and 31 yards that brought Hawaii back down field to the 14. And they certainly could not reach up and knock down the field goal. "We need to make sure we don't get two myopic and try and put (the loss) on that (fumble). That's not the game. There's a thousand chances for us to win that game.''
Ten games remain now, and it is no secret that this team can not afford any more losses that could have been wins. Especially games at home.
Asked how this team picks itself back up after such a loss, Anderson said, "Grab your brother's shoulder, look him in the eye and tell him everything is going to be OK. We're still here. All of our goals for the season are still there. It's not over yet and all of know that. We're just one step away from showing everyone that we're the team everyone knows we can be.''
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