The biggest plays in football happen at the biggest moments. Desperate for a change in momentum, Hawaii’s defense needed to stand tall against Arizona as the Wildcats clawed their way into the redzone late in the second half.
A stagnant Aloha Stadium watched as Wildcats quarterback Kahalil Tate ripped through the Warriors secondary for much of the game. But in an instant, everything changed.
A sprinting Ikem Okeke jumped the route of Tate’s receiver and snatched the ball out of the air. Suddenly, Hawaii fans roared with approval and brought life back into Aloha Stadium.
In a game marred with turnovers and mental miscues from the Warriors, Okeke’s interception — which he returned for 49 yards — was the turning point.
“I was thinking, ‘Go to the house,’” Okeke said of his interception.
Okeke’s interception allowed quarterback Chevan Cordeiro the time and comfort to orchestrate the Warrior offense and get back on the scoreboard.
That interception allowed Hawaii to score 10 unanswered points for the win by managing the game and not playing recklessly. In hindsight, Okeke getting tackled and stopped before running into the endzone was probably a blessing in disguise.
“I ended up getting tackled and giving our offense the time to go down there and score again,” Okeke said. “And give us some time to recuperate on defense.”
That extra time on the sidelines paid dividends on the last play of the game.
With just 10 seconds to work with, Tate ran nearly 40 yards toward the endzone but was stopped one yard short of the goal line which could have forced the game into overtime. However, the clock hit zero before the Wildcats could run another play.
Okeke finished the game with five tackles to go along with his interception.