EL PASO, Texas – As the sun yielded to the clouds, the sublime gave way to some ridiculous sights at Saturday’s wacky, snowy Sun Bowl.
At halftime, the Miami fans got to watch their cheerleaders and band perform in a snowstorm. By the third quarter, the “Hyundai Sun Bowl” logo had melted away, leaving the home school’s “UTEP” logo to shine through.
It was that kind of day, though it felt a bit warmer for the Cougars’ fans and players as they celebrated a 20-14 win over the Hurricanes.
The weather affected everyone, even coaches and players who are conditioned to ignore the elements.
“It was different,” said WSU quarterback Luke Falk, who completed just 29 of 53 passes with a ball that was perpetually cold and slick. “We thought we were playing in the Sun Bowl, not the Snow Bowl.
“I thought we allowed it to affect us more on offense than it should have.”
As the snow began to stick to his players’ shoes, WSU coach Mike Leach was moved to lament that the Cougars only had “one or two of those foot-scraper things and you needed 11.”
Still, the Cougars persevered – a word uttered by more than a few WSU and Miami players.
For Miami, the crisis came just 2 ½ minutes into the game. WSU had just scored, and the snow began to fall.
The Hurricanes persevered, only to be undone by penalties and a slippery football that resulted in a wobbly halfback pass that WSU intercepted with less than 2 minutes to play.
Miami interim coach Larry Scott said the ball simply slipped out of running back Joe Yearby’s hand, landing in the grateful arms of WSU safety Shalom Luani.
Injured Cougars return
Left tackle Joe Dahl missed the last four games of the regular season with a broken foot, but ably protected Luke Falk’s blind side.
Gabe Marks was knocked out of the Apple Cup and his return for the Sun Bowl was questionable. But there was no question about his performance in WSU’s win, as he caught five passes for 67 yards to lead the team, sneaking behind the Miami defense to score a 25-yard touchdown.
And while River Cracraft did not return to the starting lineup, unlike those two teammates, he may have had the biggest impact of all. Cracraft made three catches on third or fourth downs to extend drives, finishing the day with five catches for 63 yards.
The most critical came on WSU’s second scoring drive, when Cracraft hauled in a 9-yard reception on fourth-and-4, allowing the Cougars to extend their field goal drive. Cracraft’s catch ultimately put the Cougars up 10-7, a lead that they would never relinquish.
Cougs feast on turnovers
Miami committed nine penalties for 105 yards, each flag seemingly more costly than the last.
WSU had just taken a 17-7 lead with 2: 32 left in the half, then got the ball back at the Miami 42 after a short punt.
The Cougars had just 26 seconds to work with, but Miami – the most-penalized team in the country – committed two more before halftime. A personal foul gave WSU first-and-10 at the16 with 10 seconds left, and a targeting call on safety Rayshawn Jenkins set up Erik Powell’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.
Soon after halftime, a long punt return was nullified by a penalty. In the fourth quarter, a chop block at the 1-yard-line took a touchdown off the board.
“Penalties hurt you in all games and ultimate we have to clean them up,” Scott said.
WSU had five penalties for 63 yards.
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