For the second time in three years the Stanford Cardinal came to El Paso and were outgained yardage-wise by their opponent, and for the second time in three years the team from the Pac-12 came out with a Sun Bowl victory as the Cardinal outlasted the Pittsburgh Panthers, 14-13, to win the 85th Annual Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Stanford (9-4), which had to stave off a late North Carolina rally in 2016 to win by two points, had to do the same on Monday in front of 40,680 fans to hold on to a one-point win over Pitt (7-7). It is the first one-point final in the Sun Bowl since 2006.
The game was also turnover-free for the first time in 20 years.
With the win the Cardinal move to 4-1 in the Sun Bowl. The four wins are the most my any team, other than El Paso’s own UTEP (five wins), in Sun Bowl history.
Stanford was outgained in total yards 344-208, lost the time of possession battle by over seven minutes and went 1-for-10 on third downs, but found a way to pull out the victory on a lost fumble by quarterback K.J. Costello at the 3-yard line that somehow found its way right into the hands of running back Cameron Scarlett who was standing in the end zone.
“It’s not about yards, it’s about points. There’s so many different stats and I appreciate the Pro Football Focus stuff, but that doesn’t win football games,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You’ve got to run the ball well, you’ve got to stop the run, you’ve got to be great on first down, you’ve got to be great on third down and you’ve got to be great in the red zone.”
Pitt had a final possession to try and steal the win, and after a 4th-and-11 conversion from its own 3-yard line with 2:27 left it seemed as if it might just be the Panthers’ day. But another fourth-down conversion fell short a few plays later and sealed the win for the Cardinal.
Scarlett finished with 94 yards on the ground and two touchdowns for Stanford on his way to being named the C.M. Hendricks Most Valuable Player of the game. Costello finished with 105 yards through the air while senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside had three catches for 90 yards, including the biggest catch of the game, a 49-yard catch and run that set up the wacky winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Thomas Booker nabbed the Jimmy Rogers, Jr. Trophy as the game’s best lineman.
“Coach Shaw referred to it in the locker room, I mean this game was a lot like the season, the first half of the season, but effort was never a question with these guys, they are going to figure it out,” Costello said.
On the Pitt side, quarterback Kenny Pickett finished 11-of-29 for 136 yards passing. Senior running back Darrin Hall finished with a game-high 131 yards on the ground while receiver Taysir Mack accumulated 68 yards on four catches.
“I look at our 208 yards rushing and 344 total yards to their 208 and I just doesn’t add up how that score ends up being 13-14 but that’s really the only stat that matters,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.
The game got off to a slow start as the Sun Bowl had a scoreless first quarter for the first time in six years.
The Panthers drove into Cardinal territory during its first two drives, including getting to the Stanford 28-yard line on its second drive of the day. But a loss of yardage during a running play and a 10-yard sack thwarted the Panthers’ drive.
Pitt finally broke through on the second play of the second quarter as its third drive ended on a 29-yard field goal by Alex Kessman. The biggest play on the 6-play, 54-yard drive was a 47-yard scamper by Hall. Kessman was named the John H. Folmer trophy winner as the game’s top special teams player after going 2-for-3 on field goals.
“Really we just wanted to take advantage of the coverage that they were showing. We felt that we could get the ball out quick and do some work there, which I thought we did,” Pickett said. “We only had a couple of explosives down the field passing. I wish we had some more deep shots that would’ve ended up in touchdowns.”
Stanford, on the other hand, could not getting anything going during its first four drives as the team from the Pac-12 started the game with four consecutive three-and-outs. The Cardinal were held to a total of three yards in the first quarter and did not get their initial first down until the 10:53 mark of the second quarter.
But after its initial first down, the Stanford offense finally came alive as the Cardinal went on a 7-play, 64-yard drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Scarlett.
Even though Stanford was outplayed by the Panthers, they still held a 7-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Pitt, however, had an answer. The Panthers showed the power of their running game as they answered the Cardinal touchdown with one of their own.
Pitt’s 75-yard drive ate up over five minutes of playing time and culminated with a 6-yard touchdown run by Hall, who finished with 93 yards rushing in the first half. The touchdown gave the Panthers a 10-7 led at the half.
The teams traded three-and-outs to start the second half, but with Pitt at midfield during it s second drive, Pickett hit Mack down the left sideline for a 41-yard hookup that put the ball at the Cardinal 9-yard line.
The Panthers could not punch it in the end zone, however, as they settled for Kessman’s second field goal of the day, a 28-yarder that increased the Pitt lead to 13-7 at the 8:13 mark of the third quarter. It would be the only score of the quarter.
“Offensively we have to finish drives in the red zone,” Narduzzi said. “Overall, offensively and defensively we outplayed them we just didn’t win on the scoreboard which is unfortunate and I feel bad for our seniors.”
Stanford’s winning drive began in the third quarter, and after eight plays and 78 yards the Cardinal marked the final points of the game with 11:28 left.
Pitt drove down the field on its next possession trying to answer Stanford’s score as it had in the first half. The Panthers drove to the Cardinal 35-yard line, but a couple of negative plays forced a 55-yard field goal, which Kessman missed short and wide right.
Pitt would get its final try after forcing a Stanford punt, but the drive ended after a non-conversion of a 4th-and-three with 1:44 left.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald Post
FINAL: Stanford 14 (9-4, 6-3 PAC-12), Pitt 13 (7-7, 6-2 ACC) | Attendance: 40,680
SUN BOWL GAME NOTES
The 17 combined points at halftime were the least since Dec. 31, 2012 when USC and Georgia Tech combined for 14 points. Georgia Tech and Utah combined for 17 points at the half on Dec. 31, 2011.
The 20 combined points through three quarters were the fewest since 21 points combined by USC and Georgia Tech on Dec. 31, 2012.
Stanford’s one-point win over Pitt was the first one-point margin of victory since Oregon State edged Missouri, 39-38, on Dec. 29, 2006.
The combined 27 points was the least since Oregon State’s 3-0 victory over Pitt on Dec. 31, 2008. The 2012 Sun Bowl saw 28 combined points (Georgia Tech 21, USC 7).
The three combined touchdowns were the least since USC and Georgia Tech combined for four touchdowns on Dec. 31, 2012.
The combined 552 total yards was the least since 451 yards were combined for in 2008 (Pitt vs. Oregon State).
Stanford and Pitt combined for zero turnovers. It’s the first time since Dec. 31, 1998 (TCU vs. USC) that neither team committed a turnover in the Sun Bowl game.
With Stanford’s victory, it now has four wins in the Sun Bowl game, the second most ever behind UTEP’s five victories. The Cardinal also defeated North Carolina, 25-23 (Dec. 30, 2016), Michigan State, 38-0 (Dec. 31, 1996) and LSU, 24-14 (Dec. 31, 1977).
Stanford has won its last two Sun Bowl appearances, but has been outgained yardage wise in both contests. North Carolina outgained Stanford 398-283 on Dec. 30, 2016, while Pitt outgained Stanford, 344-208.
Stanford punter Jake Bailey punted nine times (401 yards), ranking tied for seventh most in Sun Bowl history. Bailey’s three punts inside the 20-yard line ranks tied for sixth most in Sun Bowl history.
Jake Bailey, who tallied 401 yards on nine punts, is one of seven punters in Sun Bowl history to hit 400-plus yards.
Pitt’s Alex Kessman connected on a 29-yard field goal, first points for Pitt in the Sun Bowl since Dec. 30, 1989. Henry Tuten caught a 44-yard touchdown from Alex Van Pelt in the fourth quarter that year.
Darrin Hall rushed for 123 yards. He’s the first player to rush for over 100 yards in the Sun Bowl game since Stanford’s Bryce Love rushed for 119 on Dec. 30, 2016. Hall added a touchdown, six-yard rush in the second quarter.
SUN BOWL MVP
Stanford RB Cameron Scarlett was named the C.M. Hendricks MVP
Scarlett rushed for 94 yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns
Scarlett is the seventh RB to win the C.M. Hendricks award since 2005
Scarlett gave Stanford a 7-3 lead on a one-yard TD run during the second quarter
Scarlett gave Stanford the go-ahead lead with a fumble recovery in the end zone in the fourth quarter with 11:28 to play
Scarlett had a long rush of 16 yards during the third quarter
First Quarter Notes
First scoreless first quarter since in the Hyundai Sun Bowl since 2012.
Pitt outgained Stanford in total yards, 114-1.
Pitt RB Darrin Hall rushed for 67 yards.
Stanford LB Sean Barton tallied four total tackles.
Second Quarter Notes
Pitt tallied 112 yards compared to Stanford’s 84.
Pitt threw for 53 yards and rushed for 59.
Stanford threw and rushed for 42 yards, respectively.
Pitt outgained Stanford in total yards in the half, 226-85.
Pitt edged Stanford in total possession time, 19:43 – 10:17.
Pitt went 4-of-9 on third down, while Sanford went 0-of-5.
Stanford linebacker Sean Burton finished the first half with seven total tackles.
Pitt running back Darrin Hall rushed for 93 yards, which was more than his previous game in the ACC Championship.
Third Quarter Notes
Pitt outgained Stanford in total yards, 65-16.
Pitt held Stanford to zero pass yards in the third quarter.
Stanford rushed for 16 yards compared to Pitt’s 15 rushing yards.
Fourth Quarter Notes
Stanford regained the lead (14-13) with a fumble recovery touchdown by Cameron Scarlett at the 11:28 mark.
Stanford outgained Pitt in the final quarter, 107-53.
Stanford tallied 46 pass yards compared to Pitt’s 38.