Hawaii seeks bowl berth against Washington State

HONOLULU — Hawaii coach Greg McMackin dismisses any talk about how the Warriors should hula dance right over Washington State on Saturday night and make plans to stay in the islands for the holidays.

The Warriors (6-5), a victory away from securing a berth to their hometown Hawaii Bowl for the fifth time since 2002, seem to have finally found their rhythm and are four-touchdown favorites against the Cougars (2-10).

That doesn’t matter much to the first-year coach because he knows there’s a big difference between the Western Athletic Conference and the Pacific-10.

“The Pac-10 is up here,” McMackin said, raising his arm. “And the WAC is down here.”

Hawaii is 13-34 against the Pac-10, including a 45-7 drubbing at Oregon State earlier this year. Hawaii is 1-2 against WSU, which won the last meeting between the schools in 1999 during McMackin’s first stint as the Warriors’ defensive coordinator.

Warriors receiver Malcolm Lane said Washington State’s record does not reflect how good the Cougars really are.

“You have to watch them on film and see what teams they played,” said Lane, who is coming off a career-best 144 yards receiving and two touchdowns. “We play Oregon State one time this year, they go against teams like that every week.”

However, Hawaii has defeated its last two Pac-10 opponents at Aloha Stadium, including Washington last year that allowed the Warriors to finish 12-0 and earn an invite to the Sugar Bowl.

McMackin refers to Saturday’s game as a “must win.” But it technically isn’t since the Warriors still have another game. However, with No. 16 Cincinnati next weekend, Hawaii wants to get it done this weekend.

“Quite honestly, it’s a real important ball game for us,” McMackin said.

The Cougs, meanwhile, are seeking to spoil the Warriors’ season and are riding high after their improbable 16-13 overtime victory over rival Washington in the Apple Cup that snapped a seven-game losing streak and had the Pacific Northwest buzzing all week. They are hoping to parlay their enthusiasm into closing their dismal season out with two wins.

“You come off a big game like that and hopefully you can utilize that win in confidence building and see if you can apply it to the next ball game,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “I’m anxious to see if we can respond and play better football.”

He said the long travel and island distractions make Hawaii a tough place to win. Besides that, the Cougars will have to get adjusted to the 40-degree difference between Pullman and Honolulu.

WSU will be without tight end Tony Thompson who suffered a concussion in the Apple Cup.

For the Warriors, receiver-running back Kealoha Pilares’s start was in question after he missed practice earlier this week with a sprained right foot. Pilares leads the team with an average of 5.2 yards a carry and five rushing touchdowns. He also has 26 catches for 230 yards and two TDs.

Hawaii safety Ryan Mouton has a sprained ankle, but could see limited action.

With a rout of WAC doormat Idaho last weekend, Hawaii is looking to sweep the Palouse in November. But Hawaii began the month being upset 30-14 at Utah State. The victory is just one of two this season for the Aggies.

“We learned from Utah State, you can’t look past any team,” Hawaii linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. “Any team has the potential to beat any team on any given day. We definitely know Washington State is a good team regardless of what their record shows.”

Elimimian, who anchors Hawaii’s aggressive defense, has a school-record 404 career tackles and is chasing the WAC mark of 443 set by Texas-El Paso’s Robert Rodriguez.

Hawaii scored a season-high 49 points last week against Idaho, surpassing the 42 points it put up the previous weekend at New Mexico State. The Warriors averaged just 20.6 points a game in their first nine games when they were busy holding auditions for a starting quarterback.

Hawaii finally settled on Greg Alexander, who has started the past three games. Last week, Alexander threw for 264 yards and accounted for four TDs, including three through the air.

He has thrown 118 passes without an interception, dating back to the season-opener at Florida.

The Warriors will try to open it up early against the Cougars, who allow 448.8 yards and 45.4 points a game.

Hawaii is 6-0 this season when scoring 20 points or more.

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