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Luani continued trend of making big plays during Cougars' 20-14 Sun Bowl win against Miami

For the first time in 12 years, we can call Washington State “Bowl Champions.” In a snowy Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, the Cougars beat Miami 20-14 even though the Cougs didn’t score a single point in the second half. A combination of good defense and a few untimely penalties against Miami paved the way for a happy Cougar holiday.

CF.C player of the game: Shalom Luani & Jamal Morro

Shalom Luani saved the Cougars for the second time this year to (all but) end the game. A trick play—a running back pass—was lofted up on the right sideline, and he drove for it and jumped up to get the pick. Luani made a great play to jump up and shield the football with his back away from the Canes receiver. A spinning interception to give Luke Falk the ball, and a chance to close out the game was just what the doctor ordered in a weird and snowy “Sun” Bowl.

Jamal Morrow finished the game with 71 rushing yards on 10 carries and none were bigger than his 11-yard run on the first play after Luani’s interception. He pounded through would-be tacklers and eventually twisted down for the first down, which was all the confidence the offense needed to finish the game. He was pushing through tacklers the entire afternoon, and he made his presence felt on the final drive.

Surprises:

The weather continued to affect the Cougars ability to pass. Falk struggled to throw almost the entire fourth quarter, only completing 2 of 11 passes for 11 yards. After three quarters, Falk was at 284 yards. He still finished as the Most Valuable Player with 295 yards and two TDs.

WSU was held scoreless in the second half and still won the game despite putting up only 20 points in the game. Alex Grinch’s D caused two turnovers from within the 30-yard line. A fumble inside the 5 and the recovery from sophomore cornerback Marcellus Pippins, coupled with Luani’s aforementioned interception, spelled a win courtesy of the defense.

The Cougars were the beneficiaries of the penalty game. Miami had nine accepted penalties for 105 yards whereas WSU only had five accepted penalties for 63 yards.

Both teams were awful on third down. The Hurricanes were 3-for-13 and the Cougs finished 5-for-15. For once, a team had a better fourth-down conversion rate than WSU as the Canes finished 2-for-3 and WSU was just 1-for-3.

No WSU receiver had more than five receptions.

Standout Stats:

Falk only threw for 11 yards in the fourth quarter.

Eleven receivers caught a pass for Washington State, led by two players returning from injury. Gabe Marks and River Cracraft had five receptions each. Marks finished with 67 yards, Cracraft with 63. Jamal Morrow also had five receptions for 50 yards.

The Cougs had six more tackles-for-loss, pushing the season total to 102, the second-most in WSU history. Ivan McLennan, Hercules Mata’afa, Destiny Vaeao, Daniel Ekuale and Darryl Paulo all recorded one. McLennan, Mata’afa, Vaeao and Paulo’s TKLs were sacks. Jeremiah Allison and Parker Henry each had 0.5 TKLs.

Leading tacklers: Darrien Molton

Despite being injured near the end of the game, Molton led the way with eight tackles (six solo). Jeremiah Allison finished his final game with six tackles (two solo). Four Cougars finished with four tackles apiece: Charleston White, Ivan McLennan, Shalom Luani and Frankie Luvu.

Misleading stat of the game: Penalties

Despite the penalty “discrepancy” described above, it’s less about the number of penalties and when they occurred. Miami was in the end zone with just over four minutes to play, but there was a yellow hanky on the field. An illegal block in the back left Miami outside the end zone, and they never punched it in again. Two plays later Marcellus Pippins recovered a fumble (Pip leads the team in fumble recoveries with three), and on the Canes next drive a first down trick play landed in Shalom Luani’s waiting arms to help seal the Cougars win.

A 50-yard run from Miami’s Tracy Howard set the Canes up at the 15, but a clipping call brought the play back and four plays later the Hurricanes punted. I’m in no way complaining, but for the first time in a long time, penalties didn’t spell the end for Washington State.

Play of the game: Shalom Luani’s INT

For the second time this season, Luani saved the day for Washington State. We all wondered if someone would be able to fill Deone Bucannon’s shoes at safety, and he may not be as good yet, but Luani is making hits and plays just like ol’ No. 20 used to make. Luani has been punishing ball carriers all year and made the big play when the Cougars needed them most this year, and the Sun Bowl was no different.

On a lofted throw on a running back pass, Luani saw the “wounded duck” throw and made a play on it. He jumped and spun—to put his back to the Miami player trying to cause an incompletion—and came down with the ball. It was Luani’s, team leading, fourth INT of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Injuries noticed:

Darrien Molton limped off the field late in the game.

Up Next: The Cougars Spring game: TBD. Next game that counts is Eastern Washington scheduled for September 3rd in Pullman.

Notable Notes:

Dom Williams (1,040) and Gabe Marks (1,192) are the first Cougar receiver tandem to hit 1,000-plus yards in the same season in school history. Dom needed three yards to reach the mark coming into the game, and his first catch went for 33 yards in the second half.

Marks finished the year with 104 receptions, which is the second-most in a single season in school history. Marks also extended his WSU single-season record to 15 TD receptions and moved to third place on WSU’s career TD list with 24.

Luke Falk added to his single season record for touchdown passes, he now has 38.

Peyton Pelluer’s three tackles pushed him to 101 on the season. He also made his first career interception.

Darryl Paulo and Hercules Mata’afa recorded their seventh sacks of the season. Destiny Vaeao finished with 4.5 sacks, and Ivan McLennan got his sixth sack of the year.

Erik Powell kicked two field goals, his season total lands at 20, he took over sole-possession of fourth place in WSU single-season history.

Calvin Green made his first start at nickel back of his career.

The Cougs swept the Sun Bowl awards too: Luke Falk was named Most Valuable Player, Hercules Mata'afa was named Lineman of the Game,and Erik Powell was named Special Teams Player of the Game.

Mike Leach Postgame Quotes:

We need to learn to put a team away. We’re really good at the gritty and tough aspect of things, but when we get in the right situation we need to find a way to put teams away – we need to develop that this offseason.

I thought it was a sloppy game, really on both sides and the weather obviously contributed to that. I thought our team was really gritty and tough when it came to finding a way to win.

They did a good job taking up for one another – the defense started slow … the offense picked up for them. And then towards the end where we weren’t getting a lot done offensively, the offense picked us up, and the special teams were solid in between. It was a great team win against one of the teams that has one of the best legacies in college football, the Miami Hurricanes. I’m really proud of our guys.

I’m proud of how we’ve become (mentally tough) and I don’t think we started the year that way, but I think it started really in our locker room… everybody challenged each other and then everybody got tougher.

I think (Alex Grinch) has done a tremendous job just as far as getting people in places and then settling them in, just a consistent message on defense and they’ve steadily risen throughout the season.

We got better each week, and I think that’s the most important thing. We still have a long ways to go.


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