Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy spent a less-than-relaxing weekend in Hawaii before arriving back at Titan Football House Sunday evening to get back to work.
The Titans won't have much time to think about Saturday night's 26-15 nonconference loss to Hawaii in front of 34,530 spectators in Aloha Stadium. Not with only three days to prepare for Thursday night's game against Fresno State, the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.
"We'll be up pretty late," Murphy said Sunday after the return trip from Honolulu. "We're just going to have to tone down practices. Our guys are really tired."
The Hawaii trip was emotionally draining as well. Fullerton was in a position to pull off an upset, despite the fact that senior running back Rick Calhoun was shut down. Calhoun, usually the Titans' most reliable source of offense, was largely absent. Slowed by a virus and the fact that the Titans abandoned their running game in the second half, Calhoun was held to 19 yards rushing in 10 carries.
Fullerton netted only 10 yards rushing in the loss, its lowest rushing output since a 14-yard performance in a 30-3 loss to Nevada Reno last September.
"Shoot, they just pounded us," Murphy said. "We couldn't move the ball at all on the ground. When we got behind, we had to start throwing."
The result was a second-half comeback that, were it not for some critical turnovers, might have given the Titans the upset. Instead, they will take a 2-7 record into Thursday's nationally televised game at Fresno. Hawaii is 4-0 in Aloha Stadium this season, 4-2 overall.
Fullerton took a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter when Calhoun returned a punt a school-record 87 yards for a touchdown. "He had strep throat all week, but he didn't look like it on that return," Murphy said.
It turned out to be Fullerton's only cause for celebration in a half that Hawaii dominated. The Rainbow Warriors outgained Fullerton, 223 to 50, in total offense in the first half and, thanks in part to another in a series of crucial Titan mistakes, left the field with a 16-7 lead.
Hawaii took a 9-7 lead with 11:31 left in the half on Gregg Tipton's one-yard scoring pass to Coyle Pemetter. Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Titan running back Tracey Pierce, who saw more playing time than usual because of Calhoun's illness, fumbled at the Fullerton 11, where defensive back Rick Saunders recovered. Two plays after that, Junior Lopatis went into the end zone from two yards out. In a span of less than two minutes, the Rainbow Warriors had scored 13 points to take a 16-7 lead.
Hawaii made it 23-7 with 5:27 left in the third quarter on Tipton's 17-yard touchdown pass to David Dyas. That seemed to be the cue for the Titans' better-late-than-never offense to make a run at Hawaii's lead.
On its ensuing possession, Fullerton drove 65 yards in nine plays to put itself back in the game. Barber, under heavy pressure, threw to Mark Hill, who made a leaping catch in the end zone for a six-yard scoring reception. Barber threw to Dan Josten for a two-point conversion that cut Hawaii's lead to 23-15 with 1:34 left in the third quarter. "You could feel the momentum start to change," Murphy said.
The Titans had two opportunities to cut into that lead even further, but both ended in frustration. The first was the most disheartening. Barber led a drive that began at the Fullerton 10. A 36-yard completion to Todd White gave the Titans a first and goal from the Hawaii 10, but Barber was then stripped of the ball on a scramble and M. L. Johnson recovered for Hawaii at the three.
The Titans had another chance midway through the fourth quarter, moving to the Hawaii 46 before Barber's pass intended for tight end Jim Thornton was deflected and picked off by Thad Jefferson. The play set up Rod Valverde's 42-yard field goal that made it 26-15 with 1:38 to play.
"We just self-destructed something terrible," Murphy said. "We're not that awesome offensively. When we get those opportunities to score, we better come up with some points."
Barber finished with his best statistical performance of the season, completing 20 of 32 passes for 214 yards. He was 16 of 21 in the second half, but his fumble and interception enabled Hawaii to keep the game out of reach.
Backup linebacker Greg Williams missed the team bus to the airport Thursday and didn't make the trip. Coach Gene Murphy said Sunday night that he didn't have an explanation for Williams' absence. "I don't know if he's still down at the airport, waiting for the bus or where he is," Murphy said. . . . Sophomore linebacker Jeff Hipp was credited with 20 tackles, giving him 34 in his two games as a starter. . . . Linebackers George Pritchard (knee) and Bill Bryan (shoulder) were injured in the loss. Both will be examined today before a determination is made on their status for Thursday night's game at Fresno State. . . . Offensive tackle Matt Fitts sat out the second half with a pinched nerve in his neck but is expected to play Thursday.