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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 7:08 a.m., Monday, December 3, 2007

Warriors to play Georgia in Sugar Bowl

By Stephen Tsai
HawaiiWarriorBeat.Com Editor

The University of Hawai'i football team's pretty-please wishes were answered yesterday, with Sugar on top.

In a barely audible announcement made before a national television audience and more than 7,500 tonsil-gyrating fans in the Stan Sheriff Center, the Warriors learned they were selected to play Georgia in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, based on finishing 10th in the BCS standings.

"We can't wait to have a happy new year," quarterback Colt Brennan said.

Indeed, this already has been a season of good cheer for the Warriors, who completed a 12-0 regular season with Saturday's 35-28 victory over Washington.

That all but assured that the Warriors would earn a Bowl Championship Series berth. A team that is not a member of one of the six major conferences needs to place in the top 12 in the BCS standings to qualify. The Warriors, who are members of the non-BCS Western Athletic Conference, were No. 12 in last week's standings.

"We were confident," defensive tackle Keala Watson said of the Warriors' BCS chances. After all, they finished the regular season as Division I-A's only unbeaten team. "It was fun leading up to the announcement."

The Fox network aired the show announcing the BCS pairings. UH organized a party at the Stan Sheriff Center, complete with the entire UH marching band, cheerleaders and Rainbow Dancers. The Fox special was shown on the arena scoreboard and four large video screens.

Brennan, who wore a T-shirt and baseball cap, was asked to warm up a crowd that needed little prompting. Brennan then pointed to his teammates, thanking them for their contributions.

The fans roared each time Fox cut to a live shot inside the arena. They booed loudly when an analyst questioned whether the Warriors merited BCS consideration. But, mostly, they yelled in joy.

"I've never experienced anything like this," linebacker Timo Paepule said. "Our fans have our back. It was loud."

Watson said: "It was nice to experience this. During the games, we're so focused, we don't pay attention to what the fans are doing. This was nice to see our fans really support us. We appreciate it."

And then, in a flash, the UH and Georgia logos appeared on the screens next to the Sugar Bowl emblem.

"Oh, man, this is so surreal," Brennan said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'll remember this feeling forever. To be a senior and end it like this, it's a tremendous honor. I feel so grateful, so blessed. It's so overwhelming it's almost scary. It's so cool and neat how everything worked out for us. We're so excited to play Georgia on the national scale."

Head coach June Jones said the seeds of this season were planted in last year's victory in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. But, in fact, it came during the 2005 season. The Warriors went 5-7 that year, but the core of team — Brennan, slotbacks Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins, linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard, and defensive tackle Michael Lafaele — was composed of first-year starters.

"We always wanted to do something for the community and Hawai'i itself," Bess said. "This is way beyond what we imagined. We're thankful for the opportunity."

While the Sugar Bowl opponents are nicknamed the Bulldogs, the Warriors are poi dogs.

"We come from all different places," Bess said. "There are guys on our team who wouldn't even get to walk on at other schools. But they get their chance over here. That's what makes us so unique and different. We embrace people, and give them an opportunity to excel."

Safety Jake Patek said: "A lot of people might see we're not the biggest guys or the fastest guys. But one thing we do have is heart. It's almost like we all come together and play with one heartbeat. It's amazing. We build off each other. It's not our individual efforts. It's our efforts as a team that really helps us succeed."

The Sugar Bowl appearance could bring in more than $4 million to the University of Hawai'i.

"It's not about the money," athletic director Herman Frazier said. "It's about the prestige this brings to our school. So many times we get hung up on dollars. But this is worth so much more. You can't put a dollar value on this."

That is why, Brennan said, "We don't want to lose focus on what's at hand. We're going to play one hell of a football team. We don't want to embarrass ourselves. We want to show everybody we're ready to go, and to win a football game.

"The last two games have been two of the biggest games in UH history," Brennan added. "The Sugar Bowl will be the biggest game in UH history."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.