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HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii has already come quite a ways in one season under coach Nick Rolovich, and that culminated in snapping a decade-long skid on Saturday night.
Dru Brown threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns and Hawaii overcame an early deficit to beat Middle Tennessee 52-35 in the Hawaii Bowl.
The Rainbow Warriors (7-7) amassed 500 yards of total offense and their highest-scoring output this season to end on a three-game winning streak. The Christmas Eve victory marks their first bowl win since 2006, an unlikely end to a season that began with losses in three of the first four games under Rolovich.
"It's been up and down all year and there were a lot of times these kids could have quit and they stuck together, not only for the seniors, but for the fans and the supporters of Warrior football," Rolovich said. "I'm grateful for their effort. I thought they represented the university very well and I'm happy for them to go out with a win today."
Brown completed 20 of 30 passes without an interception. He had a 2-yard touchdown run and was sacked just once. Brown has nine touchdowns to zero interceptions in his last two games.
"I think the offensive line played a solid role in that," Brown said. "They played really well the last two games and really all year. Most of the time when the offense isn't working it's my fault. I still think I made some mistakes today, (but) they just weren't magnified. The receivers played great and the coaches called great plays."
Tight end Metuisela Unga caught two of Brown's scoring strikes, an 18-yarder in the first quarter for Hawaii's first score and a 12-yarder late in the third.
Diocemy Saint Juste ran for 170 yards on 25 carries.
Hawaii turned three Middle Tennessee turnovers into 21 points. It fell behind 14-0 just over 5 minutes into the game, but scored the next 28 points and never relinquished the lead.
"I think that's been kind of a trend this year where we start off slow, but after those two scores we all came together on the sideline and said, 'Enough is enough, let's go,'" Hawaii defensive lineman Kory Rasmussen said.
Brent Stockstill started at quarterback for the Blue Raiders (8-5) after missing the last three games with a broken collarbone. He finished 30 of 51 passing for 432 yards. Stockstill threw four touchdown passes — two to Richie James — and was intercepted twice.
"Obviously, we're disappointed, disappointed for our seniors," Stockstill said. "I played terrible in first half and put us in a deep hole. We tried to come out of it, but we just didn't make enough plays."
James caught nine passes for 175 yards. It was his 14th game of 100 or more receiving yards in his career. Middle Tennessee posted 542 yards of total offense.
Hawaii took a 35-21 lead into halftime.
Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have now lost their last four bowl games. It was their 10th appearance in a bowl game in program history and the sixth in the FBS era. Their last postseason win came in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl, when they defeated Southern Miss 42-32.
Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors improved to 6-5 overall in bowl games and 4-3 in the Hawaii Bowl in their first postseason appearance since losing to Tulsa 62-35 in the 2010 Hawaii Bowl. It is their first bowl win since beating Arizona State 41-24 in the 2006 edition of the Hawaii Bowl.
Saturday marked the first time that Hawaii did not commit a turnover in a game this season, much to the pleasure of Brown.
"It's nice to end the year that way," Brown said. "It's something that I've struggled with all year and we'd probably have two more wins if I stopped turning the ball over in critical situations. That's my responsibility and I think, going into the offseason, just stressing that and starting to build chemistry with the receivers and the rest of the team going into next year will benefit us a lot."
Middle Tennessee will face yet another rigorous nonconference schedule, opening against Vanderbilt on Sept. 2 before road games at Syracuse and Minnesota.
Hawaii will start year No. 2 under Rolovich at home against Western Carolina on Sept. 2, before visiting UCLA the following week.
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