The Hyundai Sun Bowl didn’t live up to its titular name, but Washington State and Miami provided the back-and-forth thriller we thought we’d see. As snow pelted the El Paso turf throughout Saturday afternoon — played simultaneously as the balmy Heart of Dallas Bowl across state and the comfortable Pinstripe Bowl in New York City — that the Bizarro Sun Bowl would be decided by Washington State’s 93rd-ranked defense.
Clinging to a 20-14 lead with 5:14 remaining, Washington State briefly saw Miami take the lead as Brad Kaaya tossed a go-ahead touchdown screen pass. But Hurricanes wideout Herb Waters was called for an illegal block, wiping the points off the scoreboard, and two plays later Miami running back Mark Walton fumbled and Wazzu defender Marcellus Pippins hopped on the snowy pigskin to end the threat. The Cougars took over at their own 4 and punted three plays later, which Braxton Berrios returned 20 yards to the Washington State 28 with a practical eternity (two minutes, 58 seconds) with which to work.
But again the Washington State defense stiffened.
Running back Joseph Yearby‘s halfback pass was intercepted on Miami’s next snap, and the Cougars consumed the final 148 seconds to secure a 20-14 victory.
Luke Falk led the Washington State attack with 29 completions on 53 attempts for 295 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His 31-yarder to Jamal Marrow opened the scoring at the 12:41 mark of the first quarter, and his 25-yard strike to Gabe Marks gave the Cougars a 17-7 lead with 1:10 to play in the first half. A 25-yard Erik Powell field goal as time expired in the first half pushed the lead to 20-7 and provided Wazzu’s final points of the day.
Only Walton’s five-yard run with 13:10 left in the fourth quarter dented the scoreboard in the second half, played entirely under ever-increasing snow flurries.
Brad Kaaya threw for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and Berrios led the all rushers with 72 yards on three carries. Yearby added 14 rushes for 63 yards.
Jamal Morrow led Washington State’s ground efforts with 10 carries for 71 yards, and Marks concluded a stellar junior season by snaring five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown.
The win was Washington State’s (9-4) first post-season victory since knocking off No. 5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. Miami (8-5) closes the book on a lost 2015 season and rests knowing sunnier days are ahead — both in the arrival of new head coach Mark Richt and, you know, in the literal sense.