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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2002

'Aina rides Rolovich's passing over Kai in Hula Bowl Maui

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nick Rolovich, who led Hawai‘i to a 9-3 record last season, completed 10 of 18 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns yesterday.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

WAILUKU, Maui — Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska might have been the marquee player in yesterday's Hula Bowl Maui, but the name of the people's choice for most valuable player of the all-star football game echoed throughout War Memorial Stadium:

"Rolo! ... Rolo! ... Rolo! ..."

"It's a great feeling," said former University of Hawai'i quarterback Nick Rolovich, who led 'Aina to a 45-28 victory over Kai.

"Rolo! ... Rolo! ... Rolo! ..."

With apologies to half-time entertainer Otis Day, the so-called "Otis, my man" of the "Animal House" movie, former UH teammate Jacob Espiau said, "In this game, Rolo was definitely the man. No doubt about it."

Rolovich, owner of the candy-styled nickname, earned sweet justification after completing 10 of 18 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He was a late addition to the roster, and he alternated snaps with Major Applewhite of Texas in the first half.

Despite contributing to two of the game's eight interceptions, Rolovich stood and delivered when it mattered. He played in only one series following the 30-minute halftime extravaganza.

During the post-game celebration, ESPN's Chris Fowler asked the crowd, "Who do you think is the MVP?"

The answer, once again, was: "Rolo! ... Rolo! ... Rolo! ..."

"He played very well," said Washington Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier, who directed the 'Aina offense. "He definitely can play at the next level."

In the four practices leading to the game, Spurrier offered Rolovich tips on reading defenses. The practices, Rolovich said, "helped me get my composure back." To further ease the stress, Rolovich played golf and grew a full beard.

"I was a little nervous at first," Rolovich said. "These guys" — he pointed to the Hula Bowl players — "are the best in the country. You have to up your game and make the plays."

Hawai‘i quarterback Nick Rolovich capped a storybook season with an MVP performance yesterday.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Rolovich's first pass was badly overthrown and intercepted by Kai safety Rick Sherrod. On the next series, Rolovich sprinted to his right and lofted a pass that fluttered in the tradewinds. Intended for the receiver on the out pattern, the ball instead sailed to Leonard Henry, at the 5, for a 36-yard gain.

"When something like that happens, you know it's your day," Espiau said. Two plays later, Verron Hayes scored on a 3-yard run, giving 'Aina a 7-0 lead.

Later, Rolovich threw scoring passes of 3 and 12 yards to Oregon tight end Justin Peelle and then found Miami's Daryl Jones, who juked cornerback Chris Angel to the turf, for a 38-yard touchdown play off of a post pattern.

"I would get open and the pass would be right there," Peelle said. "He throws some nice passes."

With a ban on blitzes, Rolovich often had enough time to thoroughly scan the passing lanes for open receivers. His best play was an incompletion, when he rolled to the far right and then threw across toward the left sideline.

Rolovich said he envisioned this sort of performance. "I just believe I can do it," he said. "I don't want to be conceited. I needed all of the help today. The receivers made great catches. But nothing happens unless you believe."

Crouch, who started for the Kai squad, was limited to 4-of-11 passing for 45 yards. He was intercepted three times; in all, 'Aina intercepted six passes. The first three Kai possessions ended in interceptions.

"You can't base everything on one game," said Crouch, who also was used as a wideout during one series. "I had a lot of great plays and a lot of plays that weren't great. I have to keep up a positive attitude."

'Aina's scoring output was the most since the North scored 50 in 1968, and the third-highest in the game's 56-year history. Kai's comeback hopes — Oregon State's Ken Simonton and Toledo's Chester Taylor had fourth-quarter scoring runs — were hindered by some tricks in time. Simonton's touchdown came with 12:22 to play, but when Kai lined up for the ensuing kickoff, the scoreboard clock showed "9:22."

Few complained, especially the fans, who kept a wave alive by throwing their seat cushions into the air and repeatedly chanting for Rolovich's reappearance.

"It was nice to make a little statement," Rolovich said. "If you want to go to the next level, you have to rise to the challenge and make plays. That's the way to succeed."