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Washington State holds on to beat Hurricanes in Sun Bowl

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For a few minutes in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Hyundai Sun Bowl in Texas, interim Miami coach Larry Scott had to think he would go out a winner. In the end, Washington State hung on to defeat the Hurricanes 20-14.

It was Washington State’s first bowl win in 12 years and stretched Miami’s bowl losing streak to 6. The Hurricanes finished the season at 8-5 and the Cougars were 9-4.

“I just figured we’d win this one and go from there,” said Washington State Coach Mike Leach. “I’m proud of them for hanging in there.”

The El Paso venue certainly didn’t have Hurricanes’ weather and was anything but sunny. A cold, steady wind and snow flurries blew throughout the game. For a while in the first half, it looked like the Cougars might blow out Miami.

Washington State struck early, going 75 yards in six plays on their first possession, capped by quarterback Luke Falk finding Jamal Monroe on a 31-yard scoring pass. Miami responded with a 15-play, 69-yard drive. Miami’s Brad Kaaya found Stacey Coley on fourth and goal from the 4-yard line to draw even at 7.

Both teams traded turnovers early in the second quarter, but the Cougars retook the lead on a 30-yard field goal by Erik Powell. After a Miami punt, Falk hooked up with Gabe Marks on a 25-yard touchdown pass. Powell added a 25-yard field goal as the half ended to take a 20-7 lead into the locker room.

Though there was no scoring in the third quarter, the Miami defense made some important plays. Two Washington State possessions resulted in turnovers on downs in Miami territory and the other was three plays and a punt. The Hurricanes earned just one first down on their three possessions.

By the fourth quarter, the snow had turned into what looked like a hurricane of snow. With 13:30 left, Miami’s Braxton Berrios exploded for 60 yards from the Wildcat formation to set up Mark Walton’s 5-yard scamper for the score that brought Miami within 20-14.

With 8:16, the Hurricanes took over on their own 22. In eight plays, they marched to the Cougars’ 5-yard line, but Walton’s fumble on the 4 kept WSU in the lead.

After a punt, Miami was back in business on the Washington State 28. On the first play, the Hurricanes tried a little razzle-dazzle, but running back Joseph Yearby’s pass was picked off by the Cougars with 2:58 remaining when Yearby lost control. Washington State was able to run out the clock.

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

Kaaya threw for 219 yards and one touchdown for Miami while Falk had 295 yards and two touchdowns for the Cougars. Three turnovers and 98 yards in penalties hurt Miami’s cause.

New Coach Mark Richt takes over the program on Monday looking to create many new memories for Hurricanes’ fans. Larry Scott would have been happy to have just one more.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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