Nevada players excited to be in Hawaii Bowl

Updated: December 5, 2005, 2:05 AM ET
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. -- They might have preferred to play before family and friends at the Las Vegas Bowl.

But after the school's 9-year bowl drought, Nevada players are excited to be heading to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve against Central Florida.

"It would have been nice to be in Las Vegas and have our fans there," said senior B.J. Mitchell, the Western Athletic Conference's leading rusher.

"But it's my first time in a bowl game so it [Hawaii Bowl] is special. To come from where we did, it's plenty good enough," he added.

Nevada (8-3) formally accepted a bid Sunday to play Central Florida of Conference USA at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

It will be Nevada's first bowl appearance since the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl and sixth bowl game overall. The Wolf Pack has a 2-3 mark in bowl games.

Central Florida earned the school's first-ever bowl appearance after going from 0-11 to 8-4 in just one season.

Nevada, picked to finish fifth in the WAC in preseason polls, shared the conference title with Boise State after upsetting then-No. 16 Fresno State, 38-35, on Nov. 26.

"Obviously, that win gave us a huge boost," quarterback Jeff Rowe said at a Sunday news conference. "We're excited to have a chance to keep it going. We feel hot right now."

Under Chris Ault, Nevada posted its first winning season since 1998. Ault, the winningest coach in school history, left his job as athletic director to return to the sidelines two seasons ago.

"We couldn't be happier for our players, our program and the state of Nevada by playing in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl," Ault said. "This is a great opportunity for us and a great reward for these players for all their hard work."

Ault's co-defensive coordinator, Tim DeRuyter, compared Central Florida with Fresno State, saying both can run the ball and throw it deep.

He praised Central Florida coach George O'Leary. In his second season, O'Leary's team snapped what was the nation's longest Division 1-A losing streak at 17 games. The Golden Knights lost the conference championship game to Tulsa 44-27 on Saturday.

"He's a very good coach," DeRuyter said. "Like Coach Ault, he's a disciplinarian. It'll be a challenge for us. Hopefully, we'll put on a good game."

The schools had no common opponents this season.

Defensive back Kevin Stanley said he and his teammates are looking forward to hitting the practice field. The Wolf Pack leaves Dec. 18 for Hawaii.

"I'm relieved to learn about the bowl game," Stanley said. "Now we can focus on practice and get ready to play the game. I'm ready to stay focused."

While off the field in Honolulu, the Wolf Pack will take part in various activities, including visits to Pearl Harbor and a Shriner's hospital.

The game, which will be nationally televised on ESPN beginning at 5:30 p.m. PDT, will mean a $750,000 payout to Nevada.

"It gives us yet another opportunity on national television to showcase our university, our athletics department and our football program," Athletic Director Cary Groth said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press