CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ross Dickerson was among seven University of Hawaii players participating in yesterday's Hula Bowl. Dickerson returned the opening kickoff 24 yards.
Aina’s improvisation earns Hula Bowl win
The team from the East takes the All-Star game when its coach dreams up the deciding play
When you have less than a week to practice together, you improvise.
That's what the Aina team did to score the go-ahead 2-point conversion with 44 seconds left in yesterday's Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
The Kai led most of the game, but the Aina won 18-10, scoring 15 points in the last 44 seconds. Turnstile attendance was announced at 7,919.
Seven former University of Hawaii players suited up for the Kai. Two of them, defensive ends Ikaika Alama-Francis (pectoral muscle tear) and Melila Purcell (knee sprain) left the game with injuries. It was not known last night how the draft status for the two pro prospects would be affected.
Clemson quarterback Will Proctor and running back Reggie Merriweather led the Aina's go-ahead drive, with Merriweather scoring the team's only offensive touchdown of the game with a 1-yard run with 44 seconds left. That cut the Kai lead to 10-9.
Then came the improv, as Proctor rolled to his right and threw to Tennessee's Bret Smith in the right-rear corner of the end zone for two points.
"I was just concentrating on trying to make a play on the ball," Smith said. "I wasn't even a secondary receiver on the play. I don't know if there was a secondary receiver. We were trying to get it to the fullback in the flat and get him open."
It was not in the Aina playbook, assuming they had one.
"We drew it up in the dirt, Coach Rich Rodriguez (of West Virginia) drew it up during the timeout. And when we went out there, guys were in the wrong places, so I had to move them around," Proctor said. "The guy (Smith) made a great adjustment and made an unbelievable catch in the back corner. I just had to throw it up as best I could."
Even when the Aina wasn't coming up with plays on the fly, Proctor and Merriweather actually were somewhat in tune with Rodriguez. Clemson still uses some concepts of Rodriguez's offense from when he was there as an assistant in 1999 and 2000.
"We ran his offense our first two years at Clemson. So we were real comfortable," said Proctor, who was named Aina game MVP after completing nine of 15 passes for 107 yards.
Ramzee Robinson of Alabama intercepted a pass by Boise State's Jared Zabransky and returned it 44 yards for the final score.
"He's really been impressive all week," Rodriguez said of Robinson.
The Kai had a last gasp, but Sergio Gilliam knocked down Zabransky's pass.
Nate Ilaoa of Hawaii scored the only other touchdown, on a 16-yard pass from Zabransky early in the first quarter. It held up for the lead until the final drive by the Clemson combination.
Merriweather's game totals of 11 yards rushing and 11 on one reception were modest, but his contributions came at the right time. His 8-yard run took the ball to the Kai 1, setting up his own score.
"Our motto at Clemson is never, ever (give up). We had a short week of practice, but we bonded and came out and played hard as a group," Merriweather said. "Mark Richt (of Georgia) and Rich Rodriguez put their heads together. They're two great coaches."
Said Rodriguez: "We only had 2 1/2 practices, so it was really hard to put stuff in. But everybody played hard. The kids really got after each other pretty good."
Kai coach Pat Hill of Fresno State is as competitive as they come, but he took this defeat in stride.
"Winning and losing is always important, but in a game like this it's not the ultimate goal," he said. "We had one last shot for the end zone. It went down to the last play, which is great."
Aina 18, Kai 10
Kai--Ilaoa 16 pass from Zabransky (G.Johnson kick).
Kai--FG G.Johnson 23.
Aina--FG Vaughn 24.
Aina--Merriweather 1 run (B.Smith pass from Proctor).
Aina--R.Robinson 44 interception return (Vaughn kick).
|Time of Possession
RUSHING--Kai, Wright 5-25, Zabransky 2-20, Ratliff 3-19, Ilaoa 6-7, Brown 5-7, Stocco 1-(minus 9). Aina, Hairston 4-12, Merriweather 4-11, Whitlock 2-6, Castille 1-5, Proctor 1-4, Zwick 2-2, Ballard 2-(minus 13).
PASSING--Kai, Zabransky 6-11-1-63, Ratliff 3-5-0-39, Stocco 2-4-0-12. Aina, Proctor 9-15-0-107, Zwick 1-6-1-12, Ballard 3-6-0-21.
RECEIVING--Kai, Thompson 2-28, Ilaoa 2-23, McFoy 2-20, Steptoe 1-18, Figurs 1-12, Wright 1-1, Brown 2-(minus 8). Aina, Richardson 3-48, Castille 3-22, B.Smith 2-26, M.Johnson 1-17, Merriweather 1-11, Moss 1-6, Hairston 1-5, Hall 1-5.