On a snowy day in El Paso, the Washington State Cougars outlasted the weather and the Miami Hurricanes to take the 82nd edition of the Hyundai Sun Bowl 20 to 14.
The Cougars took the win, despite being held scoreless by the ‘Canes defense in the increasingly snowy second half.
Late in the game, a pass attempt by Miami Running Back Joseph Yearby would turn out to be costly for the Hurricanes. Only down by four at that point, the play was set up to give them the lead, but the ball slipped out of Yearby’s hand, and then was intercepted by Washington State’s Shalom Luan – icing the six-point victory for the Cougars.
“It was a play that we carried into the game we worked on it for a week and a half, two weeks, we knew it was going to be there. We knew we had to do a great job at setting it up,” Interim Head Coach, Larry Scott said. “We called it at the right time and the ball just slipped out of his hand.”
The Cougars struck first after Quarterback Luke Falk found running back Jamal Morrow down the middle for a 31-yard catch and run.
As the Hurricanes took the field for their first possession, the snow began to fall, but that didn’t stop Miami from matching the Cougars’ score.
The second quarter would be dominated by the Cougars and aided by a number of penalties against the Hurricanes. The Cougars would
score 13 unanswered point before the half – including Defensive Back Rayshawn Jenkins – before getting ejected for targeting a Washington State player in the end zone.
Miami was penalized six times for 63 yards in the first half, hurting their chances in scoring position and finishing the game with a total of nine penalties for 105 yards. The Cougars took advantage of that holding a 20-7 lead at halftime.
“I thought as a team we really complemented each other’s play a little bit, I thought offense started pretty quick, defense started slow, special teams was reasonably steady, of course weather makes it challenging,” Cougars Head Coach Mike Leach said. “The challenging part isn’t to make a play here and there, the challenging part is to be consistent… I thought our defense played well at the end.”
After a snowy halftime show, the Hurricanes and Cougars went scoreless in the third quarter; the falling snow intensifying as the game progressed.
It took two plays for The U to ignite a comeback attempt, starting with a 60-yard run on a reverse play by Braxton Berrios to the Cougars’ 5-yard line. Mark Walton would finish the drive on the ensuing play to cut the lead by six after a touchdown run.
The Hurricanes would have one last chance to take the lead after forcing a punt with 3:13 left to play, Berrios would field and return a punt to the Cougars’ 28-yard line and that’s when the drive ended after the interception by Shalom.
Falk who missed the team’s last game of the regular season and had not played in over a month, would be named Player of the Game after completing 29 of 53 passes for 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It was different, I thought we were playing in the sun bowl and we ended up getting the snow bowl,” Falk said. “I thought we allowed the weather to affect us on offense more than it should have, but like I said, the defense just had our back. They really should get the game ball instead.”
This marks he first bowl win for the Cougars since the 2003 Rose Bowl while Miami drops to 0-6 in bowl appearances since 2006. Leach helped the Cougars improve from 3-9 in 2014 to a 9-4 finish in 2015 to go along with the Sun Bowl victory.
“I think it’s only a stepping stone, this program is on the rise, it’s just been a team effort all season long,” Falk said. “We want to carry the tradition now.”
Miami will now close the book on the Al Golden era that began after their last visit to the Sun Bowl in 2010 and welcome new head coach, Mark Richt.
“Obviously they’re upset because they fought, one thing they did not do is give in or give up, or quit,” Scott said. “They fought to the bitter end…when you fight and you keep calling and believing that things don’t work out, it hurts, but at the same time I told them they had nothing to be ashamed of.”