EL PASO, Texas » Miami came close to ending a tumultuous season with a comeback victory.
The Hurricanes twice scored what appeared to be go-ahead touchdowns Saturday against Washington State in a frustrating 20-14 loss in the snowy Sun Bowl.
“It’s very disappointing to send the seniors and staff out with a loss,” Miami junior wide receiver Stacy Coley said.
Junior defensive back Artie Burns agreed, adding, “It’s been a long year. Going out with a victory would’ve been big for this program.”
After being shut out in the second and third quarters and trailing 20-7, Miami (8-5) finally got its offense going in the fourth. Sophomore receiver Braxton Barrios took a handoff from tailback Joe Yearby in a wildcat formation and went around right end for 60 yards to the Washington State 5. Mark Walton scored on the next play to cut it to 20-14 with 13:10 to go.
The Hurricanes responded with two more stops and twice forced the Cougars (9-5) to punt. In fact, Miami shut out the nation’s top passing offense the final two quarters.
“We had a good game plan,” Miami sophomore linebacker Juwon Young said. “In the locker room we just talked about executing. They’re fast-paced. For sure, we adjusted pretty well.”
On the next series, Miami drove six plays to a first-and-goal at the 5. On the next play, quarterback Brad Kaaya threw left to Coley for a TD that could’ve given the Hurricanes the lead, but it was called back for a block-in-the-back penalty. After a 6-yard completion to Rashawn Scott, Walton was stacked up in the middle of the line and fumbled. Marcellus Pippins recovered for the Cougars.
Still, Miami had one more chance. The Hurricanes took over at the Washington State 28 after a punt. Yearby rolled right as if on a sweep and pulled up to throw, but the pass slipped out of his hand, going end over end, and was intercepted by Shalom Lunai.
“The ball slipped out of his hands,” Miami interim coach Larry Scott said. “That’s a play we carried into the game. We worked on it for two weeks.”
Despite the team’s comeback and its resilience after seeing former head coach Al Golden fired after a blowout loss to Clemson, Scott wasn’t in the mood to talk moral victories.
“At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a moral victory,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays late in the second half. One, two or three plays could’ve made a huge difference.”
Now, Scott and the rest of the Miami staff will wait to find out their fate. Former Georgia coach Mark Richt already has been hired as the team’s head coach for next season and has begun to hire assistant coaches. It’s not clear if any of the current staff will be retained.
The pass-happy Cougars led 20-7 after three quarters, then were shut out in the second half and had to rely on the defense to hold off Miami.
Washington State’s defense got some help from a penalty and forced two late turnovers.
“They got the game-winner today,” said Cougars quarterback Luke Falk, selected the game’s MVP after passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns. “They made plays down there. The two turnovers in the red zone was just huge. We knew something good was going to happen for them, and it did.”
Erik Powell added field goals of 30 and 25 yards to help the Cougars (9-4) win a bowl game for the first time since the 2003 Holiday Bowl.
“I just figured we’d win this one and go from there,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said when asked about ending the bowl drought.