El Paso, Texas — 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 into 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.”
Foster Farms Bowl
Nebraska 37, UCLA 29: At Santa Clara, California, Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score to help Nebraska cap a losing season. The Cornhuskers (6-7) scored 30 straight points after falling behind 21-7 early to overpower the Bruins (8-5) and provide a happy ending to coach Mike Riley’s first season.
Stanley Morgan Jr. gave Nebraska the lead for good with a one-handed, 22-yard catch in the third quarter and Imani Cross, Terrell Newby and Andy Janovich all ran for scores for the Cornhuskers.
Armstrong completed 12 of 19 passes for 174 yards and ran for 76 more to lead the way for Nebraska, which had a season high with 326 yards rushing.
Josh Rosen threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns for the Bruins. They ended what had once been a promising season with losses to Southern California and in the bowl game.
Nebraska only got in a bowl because there were not enough six-win teams to fill all 80 slots.
Virginia Tech 55, Tulsa 52: At Shreveport, Louisiana, Michael Brewer threw for 344 yards, Isaiah Ford had 227 yards receiving and Frank Beamer won in his coaching finale. The 69-year-old Beamer announced in November he would retire following the season. He finished with a 238-121-2 record at Virginia Tech over 29 seasons.
Virginia Tech (7-6) was playing in a bowl for the 23rd straight season. The first game of that streak also was in the Independence Bowl in 1993, when the Hokies beat Indiana 45-20.
This trip to Shreveport was filled with plenty of offense, but had more drama.
Tulsa (6-7) rallied from a three-touchdown deficit in the second half to pull to 55-52 with 3:47 left. Virginia Tech’s Dadi L’homme Nicolas ended Tulsa’s final drive with a sack of Dane Evans on fourth down.
The 107 points were the most in Independence Bowl history. Ford’s 227 yards receiving on 12 catches set an Independence Bowl record.
Tulsa’s Evans completed 27 of 44 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns. D’Angelo Brewer ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Duke 44, Indiana 41, OT: At New York, Ross Martin kicked a 36-yard field goal in overtime, and Duke won a bowl game for the first time in 54 years. After Martin made his kick on the first possession of the extra period, the Hoosiers’ Griffin Oakes missed a 38-yard attempt to hand the Blue Devils their first bowl victory since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
Oakes’ try sailed over the right upright and was ruled wide. Oakes protested that it was good, but the kick could not be reviewed, and Duke’s players poured onto the field to celebrate.
Shaun Wilson had 282 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns for the Blue Devils (8-5), including a 98-yard kickoff return. Quarterback Thomas Sirk accounted for 318 yards and three touchdowns before getting hurt in overtime. His 5-yard TD run tied it with 41 seconds left.
Oakes then missed a 55-yard potential winning attempt at the end of regulation.
Indiana finished the season 6-7.
Heart Of Dallas Bowl
Washington 41, Southern Miss 31: At Dallas, Myles Gaskin broke a third-quarter tie with an 86-yard run and had a season-high 181 yards and four touchdowns. The Huskies (7-6) won their last two regular-season games by a combined 97-17 over Oregon State and Washington State to become bowl eligible and then delivered Chris Petersen’s first postseason victory in his two seasons at Washington.
Gaskin’s other scores came on 2- and 1-yard runs in the first quarter and a 13-yarder in the fourth. On the 86-yarder, the freshman took a handoff inside, broke to the left sideline and shook off one final defender at the Southern Miss 35.
Nick Mullens threw touchdowns passes of 56 and 27 yards by Michael Thomas for Southern Miss (9-5), and Ito Smith added 1- and 2-yard scoring runs.
St. Petersburg Bowl
Marshall 16, UConn 10: At St. Petersburg, Florida, Chase Litton completed 23 of 34 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. Nick Smith made three field goals for Marshall (10-3), the last a 32-yarder with 1:44 to play that capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 6:35.
Bryant Shirreffs completed 10 of 17 passes for 86 yards and gained 75 yards on 19 carries for UConn (6-7). The Huskies failed in their bid to have a winning record for the first time since 2010.