Las Vegas — The Las Vegas Bowl was always going to be about Chris Petersen. It was his final game as coach, a matchup the two programs he led to such great heights in Washington and Boise State
It could have been his moment, but the humble Petersen went out of his way to share his last spotlight after a successful finale.
Jacob Eason threw for 210 yards and a touchdown, Elijah Molden was named MVP after intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble, and the Huskies sent out Petersen with a 38-7 victory over No. 18 Broncos on Saturday night.
"Well, this is never about any one person. It's never about any one player. It's a team game," Petersen said.
That was certainly true as Petersen capped six seasons as Washington's coach and 14 years as one of the most successful leaders in college football.
Richard Newton rushed for 69 yards with a short touchdown run and threw a touchdown pass for the Huskies (8-5), and Salvon Ahmed added two touchdown runs. Myles Bryant added an interception, and six different defenders had a tackle for loss.
Together, they capped an erratic season with a dominant finale for Petersen — who left Boise State to coach Washington — after he announced Dec. 2 he was stepping down after six seasons. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will take over as head coach.
Petersen brought Lake to the stage to help accept the trophy. Petersen then alternated between cracking jokes and assigning praise to players and coaches in his final press conference.
While Petersen was apprehensive about the all encompassing focus on himself leading up to the game, Molden said it was a "pretty good incentive" to play well for him and the seniors while also building momentum towards Lake's first season.
"Every game is important, but some games are more important," Molden said. "We had a lot of weeks to kind of let this simmer. And then we went out there, we played well."
Petersen isn't clear on what his next step will be, but he is looking forward to waking up Sunday as an ex-coach. "It's going to be awesome," Petersen said. "And the next day after that is going to be awesome. Maybe in a month, it might not be so awesome, figuring out what to do next. But it's gonna be good for a while."
Liberty 23, Georgia Southern 16: At Orlando, Liberty coach Hugh Freeze went from coaching from a hospital bed at the start of the season to standing with a bowl championship trophy.
Frankie Hickson picked up 120 yards rushing on 22 carries, Stephen Calvert went 16 of 35 passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, and Liberty beat Georgia Southern.
Freeze began his first season coaching at the school from a hospital bed in the press box for the season opener against Syracuse following back surgery two weeks earlier on Aug. 16.
Freeze missed 24 practices, coached another game from the press box in a medical chair, and four more on an elevated platform on the sidelines before returning to a traditional standing position on Oct. 19.
Liberty (8-5) joined Georgia Southern and Appalachian State as the only teams to move from FCS to FBS and win a bowl game in its first season of eligibility.
Calvert, a senior making his 43rd start, topped 12,000 yards in career passing yards.
Hickson became the first Liberty running back since Rashad Jennings (2006-08) to have back to back seasons of 1,000-yards rushing.
North Carolina A&T 64, Alcorn State 44: At Atlanta, Kylil Carter passed for six touchdowns and North Carolina A&T racked up enormous offensive totals to give the Aggies’ their third consecutive HBCU national championship title.
Carter completed 18 of 30 passes for 364 yards, and added 96 on the ground. Korey Banks and Elijah Bell each caught a pair of scoring passes for NCA&T, which has beaten Alcorn State in three of the five Celebration Bowls – including two straight.
Alcorn State quarterback Felix Harper passed for 341 yards and three scores, but the Braves trailed 24-10 at halftime and NCA&T steadily stacked points from there.
The teams combined for 49 points in the third quarter, when NCA&T scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the period and Alcorn State banked touchdowns on its first three drives. The Aggies rolled to 290 yards in the quarter, and Alcorn State added 238.
NCA&T took the lead when senior Bell ran past the Alcorn State secondary and pulled in a 53-yard touchdown pass with 13:03 left in the second quarter. That was good for a 7-3 edge and extended Bell’s school record to 32 career touchdowns receiving.
Alcorn State moved ahead briefly when Harper found wide receiver Chris Blair wide open for a 59-yard scoring pass with 7:55 left.
That 10-7 advantage didn’t last long, as NCA&T scored the final 17 points of the second quarter. The Aggies had a 59-yard touchdown pass to Zachary Leslie and a 4-yard scoring pass to Korey Banks around a 28-yard field goal from Noel Ruiz to take a 24-10 lead at halftime. The field goal came shortly after freshman linebacker Jacob Roberts intercepted Harper’s pass and returned it 28 yards to Alcorn State’s 5-yard-line.
Jah-Maine Martin helped NCA&T put the game away in the third quarter. He rushed seven times in 0the first half for one yard, but he took the first play of the second half 75 yards off right tackle to score. Martin gained 117 yards rushing in the period. He finished with 110 yards on the ground.
Boca Raton Bowl
Florida 52, SMU 28: At Boca Raton, Florida, Chris Robison passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns and Florida Atlantic scored two touchdowns in a 24-second span late in the first half to take control. It was FAU’s first game since Lane Kiffin left the Owls to take over at Ole Miss – and the Conference USA champions, playing on their home field, didn’t miss a beat under interim coach Glenn Spencer.
James Charles ran for two touchdowns for FAU (11-3), which tied a school record for wins in a season and improved to 4-0 in bowl games. The first of Charles’ scores came with a minute left in the first half to break a 14-14 tie, Robison found Brandon Robinson for another touchdown 24 seconds later after an SMU interception and the Owls were off and running.
Rashad Smith ran a fumble back for a score in the third quarter to help FAU blow the game open. Robison completed 27 of 37 passes for FAU.
Shane Buchele completed 27 for 47 passes for 303 yards for SMU (10-3). The Mustangs were seeking their first bowl win since 2012, this game coming a day after they gave coach Sonny Dykes – who has gone 15-11 in his first two seasons with the team, including the 2017 Frisco Bowl loss – a contract extension.
Xavier Jones had a pair of rushing touchdowns for SMU. James Proche, who entered as the NCAA’s active career leader in receptions and receiving yards, had nine catches – giving him 301 for his career – for 86 yards and a score for the Mustangs.
Kiffin tweeted congratulations to his former team near the end of the game. “This was awesome!! 11 wins again so proud of you guys and the coaches!!” he wrote.
Now Spencer cedes control of the Owls to Willie Taggart, most recently the Florida State coach who was fired there midseason and hired at FAU earlier this month as Kiffin’s replacement. Taggart was at the game Saturday, has been around practices and said he’s thrilled by what he’s seen to this point.
“Practice has been a joy to watch these guys compete,” Taggart said. “This is a football team that loves to compete and you can tell it’s a team that’s really close to one another. To listen to those guys, how they coach each other up on the sideline and things of that nature is really impressive.”
Arkansas State 34, Florida International 26: Layne Hatcher passed for 393 yards and four touchdowns, including a late 13-yarder to Jonathan Adams. The Red Wolves (8-5) came back to life offensively for a final big drive, highlighted by All-American and game MVP Omar Bayless’s 52-yard catch down to the 12. Then they had two interceptions in the final minutes.
The Panthers (6-7) converted a fourth-and-5 play with a pass to Austin Maloney, who matched the huge game of Bayless. But James Morgan’s overthrow on the next play was intercepted by Jeremy Smith, who returned it 21 yards into FIU territory.
Arkansas State worked the clock down to 37 seconds and a punt left FIU starting at its 12 with no timeouts remaining. The Panthers got one first down on a pass interference call against Logan Wescott, who tipped the next pass into the arms of Darreon Jackson to seal the win.
Hatcher completed 27 of 51 passes and had an interception. Bayless, the nation’s No. 2 receiver, caught nine passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.
Morgan passed for 312 yards and a touchdown before the ending interceptions. Maloney caught 10 passes for 178 yards and the TD.
FIU had a chance to take its first lead but Jose Borregales’ 29-yard field goal attempt went wide left with 5:10 left. Borregales had already made four attempts, including a 48-yarder and 52-yarder in a four-minute span extending into the fourth quarter.
The nation’s No. 2 receiver, Bayless then delivered two big plays deep into FIU territory. The first was negated by a personal foul against Javonis Isaac for a blind-side block.
Then Bayless delivered again, stepping out of a defender’s grasp along the left sideline on his way to the final big gain.
New Orleans Bowl
No. 20 Appalachian State 31, UAB 17: Darrynton Evans ran for 161 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown after he scooped up a fourth-down fumble. The Mountaineers (13-1) scored twice in the third quarter on quarterback fumbles. Evans’ go-ahead score came first when Zac Thomas lost the ball on a fourth-and-1 sneak. Later, outside linebacker Nick Hampton stripped UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston, and inside linebacker Trey Cobb picked it up and returned the ball 24 yards to put Appalachian State in front 24-17.
Johntson, making his first start since injuring his knee Nov. 2 at Tennessee, passed for 298 yards and two touchdowns for UAB (9-5). Listed by odds makers as 17-point underdogs, the Blazers raced to a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes, only to be outscored 31-3 after that.
The game marked the head coaching debut for Appalachian State’s Shawn Clark, who took over after Eli Drinkwitz was hired by Missouri earlier this month. Clark is a former Appalachian State offensive lineman who’d been coaching the offensive line at his alma mater since 2016.
Now, he’s running a program that has a good chance to end the season ranked inside the top 20.
Thomas Hennigan caught two touchdown passes for Appalachian State. The first came after UAB linebacker Jordan Smith was assessed a personal foul for leaping toward the line of scrimmage on Chandler Staton’s missed 48-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter. Just two plays after the penalty, Thomas found Hennigan for a 17-yard TD that cut UAB’s lead to 14-10.
Hennigan scored his second touchdown when he wrestled an under-thrown, 27-yard pass away from cornerback Starling Thomas as both fell to the turf in the third quarter, widening Appalachian State’s lead to 31-17.
Zac Thomas finished with 142 yards and two TDs passing for the Mountaineers, who were the Sun Belt Conference champions and finished the season on a six-game winning streak.
Austin Watkins caught 10 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown for the Blazers, but most of that came on UAB’s first two possessions.