Miami receiver Herb Waters stretches to reach a long pass in front of Washington State defender Charleston White during the first half of the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday Dec. 26, 2015 in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Victor Calzada)
Victor Calzada
December 26, 2015

EL PASO, Texas (AP) Washington State's defense saved the Cougars in the snowy Sun Bowl.

The pass-happy Cougars led 20-7 after three quarters, then were shut out in the second half and had to rely on the defense to hold off Miami 20-14 on Saturday.

Washington State's defense got some help from a penalty and forced two late turnovers.

''They got the game-winner today,'' said Cougars quarterback Luke Falk, selected the game's MVP after passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns. ''They made plays down there. The two turnovers in the red zone was just huge. We knew something good was going to happen for them, and it did.''

Erik Powell added field goals of 30 and 25 yards to help the Cougars (9-4) win a bowl game for the first time since the 2003 Holiday Bowl.

''I just figured we'd win this one and go from there,'' Washington State coach Mike Leach said when asked about ending the bowl drought.

Leach focused on the contributions of seniors who stuck with the program during losing seasons.

''I'm proud of them for hanging in there,'' Leach said

Asked specifically about the play of his defense, Leach said, ''I thought it was huge. We've developed in a team that plays well together. A tough, gritty group of guys.''

Miami (8-5) lost its sixth consecutive bowl game. The Hurricanes haven't won a bowl game in nine years, dating to a win over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl.

And after a season that featured so many ups and downs, including the firing of coach Al Golden, Miami badly wanted a win for the players and coaches.

''At the end of the day, there's no moral victories,'' said interim coach Larry Scott, who will be replaced by Mark Richt. ''At the end of the day, we didn't make enough plays late in the second half.''

Washington State led 20-7 at the half and looked in total control, limiting Miami to three total first downs over the second and third quarters.

The Hurricanes rallied in a blizzard in the fourth. Braxton Berrios' 60-yard end-around run out of a wildcat formation set up Mark Walton' 5-yard scoring run that cut it to 20-14 with 13:10 left.

Two series later, Miami had a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brad Kaaya to Stacy Coley called back on a penalty with 5:14 to play. Two players later, Washington State's Marcellus Pippins recovered Walton's fumble at the 5 to end the threat.

After a Cougars punt, the Hurricanes were at the Washington State 28, but an end-over-end halfback pass from Joe Yearby was easily intercepted by Shalom Lunai with 2:58 to play.

''The ball slipped out of his hands,'' Scott said. ''That's a play we carried into the game. We worked on it for two weeks.''

Falk was 29 of 53 for 295 yards and no interceptions. He threw touchdown passes of 31 yards to running back Jamal Morrow and 25 yards to receiver Gabe Marks.

Of the team's second-half struggles on offense, Marks said, ''We allowed the weather to affect us more than we should have. At times it was frustrating. We couldn't get it going. But everyone had my back for me.''

The scoring play to Morrow, during which he turned up the right sideline and carried two defenders into the end zone, gave Washington State a 7-0 lead.

Miami tied it at 7 on a 4-yard pass from Brad Kaaya to Coley. The first quarter ended 7-7, but the Cougars ran off 13 straight points in the second.

Kaaya was 17 of 30 for 219 yards with one interception. He appeared to give the Hurricanes a 14-7 lead in the second quarter when he connected in the end zone with receiver Rashawn Scott, but the ball came out of Scott's hands and was intercepted by Peyton Pelluer.

''Plays were there to be made,'' Kaaya said. ''We've got to make those plays.''

One of the keys for the Cougars was winning the turnover battle, 3-1. Washington State fumbled in the second quarter, but the defense forced a three-and-out. On the next series, the Cougars used a 14-play drive to get Powell's first field goal and a 10-7 lead.

Washington State made it 17-7 on Falk's TD pass to Marks, and Powell made it 20-7.

''It (the win) was awesome,'' Marks said. ''A stepping stone. This is a program on the rise.''

You May Like