Dave Reardon: UH-Air Force brings back 'Crazy Blitz' memory

Nov. 8—The oddsmakers are pretty sure about a happy Veterans Day for the Air Force football team Saturday. The Falcons are favored by between 18 and 191 /2 points at Hawaii.

The oddsmakers are pretty sure about a happy Veterans Day for the Air Force football team Saturday. The Falcons are favored by between 18 and 191 /2 points at Hawaii.

This is even—or maybe especially—after a 23-3 loss to Army (now 3-6 ) that knocked Air Force (8-1 ) out of the undefeated skies and the Top 25. It would have been considered a shocker, except that anything can happen when the academy teams face off, regardless of records.

Meanwhile, the 3-7 Warriors come off their first conference win, a thorough 27-14 victory at Nevada. It was far from flawless, but the next time a football team plays a perfect game will be the first.

Academy teams come close sometimes. Because they rarely have individual pro football talent, they win with technique and discipline. Discipline means the Falcons won't be moping after a loss, and that is part of why the spread is so big, favoring a road team coming off a loss against a home team coming off a win.

Now that Air Force has been beaten, it won't be the Warriors' task to try to eliminate a fellow Mountain West program from a chance for one of the big New Year's Day bowls. Those come with multi-million dollar payouts to the conference that get distributed to the members.

The Army upset of Air Force was engineered by head coach Jeff Monken, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Hawaii in 1989. He just missed UH's most thrilling victory over an academy team, featuring one of the most clutch plays in program history.

On Nov. 26, 1988 at Aloha Stadium, Air Force led 14-13, and had a first down at the Warriors 5 with around three minutes left. Out of desperation, UH defensive coordinator Rich Ellerson (another future Army head coach ) called for an all-out blitz.

Linebacker Joaquin Barnett timed his hit perfectly on quarterback Lance McDowell, separating him and running back Albert Booker from the football they were in the middle of exchanging.

Cornerback Robert Lan—one of the 10 or 11 UH defenders blitzing on the play, depending on who tells the story—snatched the ball out of the Halawa night sky.

He pivoted and sprinted 91 yards for a game-winning touchdown.

"It's called a Crazy Blitz where everyone blitzes, " Lan said after the game. "Joaquin just hit him square on and the ball just popped straight up in the air. ... All I was seeing was green and I was running and running. I was getting a little tired, but my buddies said there was nobody behind me so I just cruised it right on in."

The next week, Lan recovered a fumble to set up a Rainbows touchdown in Hawaii's 41-17 season-ending victory over Oregon.

Coach Bob Wagner's second team was one of the two or three best in school history to that point, finishing 9-3 (with two of the losses by one score ). It was the squad that started the season with a 27-24 win over Top 10 ranked Iowa on freshman Jason Elam's late field goal.

But there was no bowl for them. There wasn't the glut of postseason games that exists now, and the Aloha Bowl almost always featured big-name programs. UH played in it just once in the game's 1982-2000 existence.

I've heard speculation this week that this year's Warriors could still play in the Hawaii Bowl. Sure, there is precedent for UH teams finishing with more losses than wins doing that.

But upsetting Air Force on Saturday for the first step from here to 6-7 will require a lot more than a late-game Crazy Blitz.