It was WSU’s first bowl win since the 2003 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, and it gave the Cougars a 9-4 overall record, their best since their 10-3 finish in 2003.

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EL PASO, Texas — Washington State brought the snow with it from Pullman to El Paso, but the Cougars will take home the Sun Bowl trophy.

Despite being shut out in the second half of Saturday’s bowl game against Miami, the Cougars did enough offensively in a big second quarter and rode their defense the rest of the way to edge the Hurricanes 20-14.

Shalom Luani’s interception of Miami running back Joe Yearby’s pass on a trick play with 2:58 remaining preserved the win for the Cougars, who couldn’t get anything going on offense after halftime but ran out the clock after Luani’s big pick.

The defense “got the game winner today,” WSU quarterback Luke Falk said. “They made plays down there and got two turnovers in the red zone, which was huge.”

The win marked WSU’s first bowl win since the 2003 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, and it gave the Cougars a 9-4 season record, the best mark since 2003, when they finished 10-3.

Falk called the bowl win a “steppingstone” and said, “I think this program is on the rise. It’s just been a team effort all season long. The seniors have done a nice job leading the group, and we want to carry the tradition now.”

Everything worked out in WSU’s favor in the end, but the Cougars began the game a little rusty.

Even though the offense scored on its first possession — a short pass from Falk that Jamal Morrow took 31 yards to the end zone — WSU had at least three dropped passes and a couple of near interceptions on its next three drives.

That slowed the Cougars but didn’t stop them. Erik Powell kicked field goals of 30 and 25 yards, and Falk, the Sun Bowl MVP, found Gabe Marks in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown as WSU scored 13 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 20-7 lead into halftime.

Marks finished with five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. He wrapped up his junior season with 104 catches — second in WSU history.

The WSU defense progressed in the opposite trajectory from its wilting offense, overcoming a rocky start but getting better as the game wore on.

Yearby finished with 63 rushing yards but had 45 in the first quarter. The Hurricanes took a page out of WSU’s book, going for it on fourth down twice during their first drive and converting both times.

The second fourth-down conversion came after WSU had declined an offensive-pass-interference penalty on Miami. But instead of kicking the field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 4, the Hurricanes went for the conversion and came up big, as Stacy Coley caught a 4-yard pass from quarterback Brad Kaaya to tie the score 7-7.

After allowing 138 yards in the opening quarter, the Cougars’ defense buckled down in the second, holding Miami to 21 yards, intercepting a pass, forcing a turnover on downs and sacking Kaaya twice.

“Really, as a team, we kind of complemented each other’s play a little bit. The offense started pretty quick, the defense started slow,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “The biggest thing is that early on we were just anxious on defense. Everybody was over-trying a little bit and just anxious.

“Once they settled into their job together, it’s all kind of easy when everybody’s working together at the same time.”

Both teams struggling to move the ball in the second half. WSU had 113 yards in the third quarter but went 0 for 2 on fourth-down conversions and did not get into the red zone.

“I felt like at times I got in a groove, but at times it was frustrating. I just couldn’t get it going,” said Falk, who finished 29 of 53 for 295 yards and two touchdowns. “Especially in the fourth quarter, and kinda late in the third quarter.”

As heavy snow started to fall, Miami ended the scoring drought at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The Hurricanes surprised the Cougars by going to the Wildcat formation and having running back Yearby take the snap. He handed off to Braxton Berrios, and the receiver dashed 60 yards before Darrien Molton caught him at the 5-yard line.

Mark Walton scored on the next play — a 5-yard touchdown run that cut WSU’s lead to six.

But that proved to be the end of the Hurricanes’ comeback bid. Even though WSU’s offense managed only 158 yards and converted 2 of 9 third downs after halftime, a Marcellus Pippins fumble recovery and Luani’s big interception held up for the Cougs.

“It feels great to start to get a name for ourselves,” senior defensive lineman Darryl Paulo said, referring to the WSU defense. “The offense has always had the reputation for carrying the team, but we came through today. The offense scored 20 points, and that’s all we needed to win.”

WSU bowl game history
The Cougars are 7-5 in bowl games.
Year Game Opponent Result
1916 Rose Bowl Brown Win, 14-0
1931 Rose Bowl Alabama Loss, 24-0
1981 Holiday Bowl BYU Loss, 38-36
1988 Aloha Bowl Houston Win, 24-22
1992 Copper Bowl Utah Win, 31-28
1994 Alamo Bowl Baylor Win, 10-3
1998 Rose Bowl Michigan Loss, 21-16
2001 Sun Bowl Purdue Win, 33-27
2003 Rose Bowl Oklahoma Loss, 34-14
2003 Holiday Bowl Texas Win, 28-20
2013 New Mexico Colorado St. Loss, 48-45
2015 Sun Bowl Miami Win, 20-14