SAN JOSE, Calif. >> First there was “Eddie Would Go.”
Then “June Would Throw.”
The next hot bumper sticker in Hawaii?
“Rolo Would Go For It.”
“I like it,” said University of Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich as he walked off the field at San Jose State on Saturday — a road winner for the first time as a head coach.
There was a lot for him to enjoy on this sunny afternoon in the Bay Area, where Rolovich was born and raised. One play especially stood out in the 34-17 win, UH’s first on the road in two years and second since 2011.
And it was the turning point.
Maybe not just of this game. Maybe for this team, and this program.
Instead of handing the ball to Steven Lakalaka on fourth-and-1 at the Hawaii 38, sophomore quarterback Dru Brown pulled it back, rolled right and ran all the way to the end zone.
Hawaii’s running game had been stagnant. But with Rolovich’s guts and Brown’s eyes and legs, UH took the lead midway through the second quarter and never relinquished it.
“He saw something, and that had to do with why we went for it,” Rolovich said. “You have to trust your players. They’re starting to trust us. He’s very observant.”
Brown said he noticed “a lot of guys in the box” when Diocemy Saint Juste was stopped for no gain on the previous play.
Brown asked Rolovich for permission, which was granted.
“Remember, I can pull it out,” Brown told Lakalaka, in case the Spartans line up the same way.
They did. And Brown and the Rainbow Warriors were off to the races and a 2-0 record in the Mountain West.
UH did have a couple of lapses later, but it recovered and finished strong.
While that was the single biggest play of the game, there was no doubt which of the three phases was the star of this one.
“For a large part of the game the defense held up the offense,” Rolovich said.
Like the previous week in a home win against Nevada, UH’s defense didn’t look good at the start. But once the Warriors settled in they prevented Spartans quarterback Kenny Potter from doing so. They harassed him incessantly, forcing him out of the pocket and into bad passes.
The Hawaii defensive backs plucked three out of the air for interceptions, with Trayvon Henderson’s leading to a Lakalaka TD in the fourth quarter and a two-touchdown lead.
Prior to that, San Jose State had battled back into it, taking advantage of a fumble by Brown when he tried to do too much. Of course, Rolovich wasn’t happy about that. But he could see the possible benefit of having to regain control of the game down the stretch.
“We were tested late, and that could be good for this team’s future,” he said.
You know you’ve got a team when different parts of it step up each week to be the major force in a win. Against Nevada it was the running backs. This was the secondary’s turn to shine.
“It’s like a two-way thing,” said cornerback Jamal Mayo, crediting the pressure from the Hawaii front seven that flushed Potter again and again — producing six sacks, too. “We stay on our men as much as possible, and we have a chance for a pick or a sack.”
Henderson is a senior safety who has suffered through three losing seasons.
“We have to try to not get too far ahead of ourselves, not get too cocky,” he said. “It’s just the beginning.”
The Warriors and their fans certainly hope so. But this refreshing start that has them atop the conference after two games exists only because UH recovered from losing momentum, on the road. The Rainbows didn’t have the kind of insurmountable lead going into the fourth quarter as they did at home against Nevada when they slept-walked through the final period.
“We fought,” Mayo said. “Fought to the end.”
We don’t know yet how far it will take them and how soon, but the Rainbow Warriors took another big step toward becoming a complete team Saturday. And they did it on the road.
Reach Dave Reardon at email@example.com or 529-4783. His blog is at Hawaii warriorworld.com/quick-reads.