EL PASO, Texas – There was plenty of scoring to go around during the 84th playing of the Hyundai Sun Bowl as 24th-ranked North Carolina State racked up 52 points to defeat a game Arizona State team, 52-31, in front of 39,897 fans on Friday afternoon.
The Wolfpack’s 52 points is the second-most scored by a team in the Sun Bowl’s prestigious history, trailing only the 56 scored by Oregon in 2007. The 83 combined points is also second-most in Sun Bowl history. UCLA and Northwestern combined to score 88 points in 2006.
“I just want to say how thankful I am to the players and the coaches for a top-25 finish and a nine-win season and to our seniors for our third bowl win in four attempts. So that’s a great finish and that’s what we talked about this whole bowl prep and I’m just so proud of those guys,” said NC State head coach Dave Doeren. “A lot of seniors don’t focus the way these guys do. You know, their minds are in other places and that just says a lot about the character of these young men and I’m very proud of them and thankful to them.”
The two teams also combined for 42 fourth-quarter points, the most points scored in any Sun Bowl quarter. The 42 points were also part of 45 scored in the second-half, tying another record.
NC State (9-4) amassed a Sun Bowl record six rushing touchdowns, the first three by Nyheim Hines, all in the first half. It was his first-ever game with three rushing touchdowns. For his efforts the junior running back was named the C.M. Hendricks Most Valuable Player.
Quarterback Ryan Finley led the Wolfpack through the air after throwing for 318 yards and a touchdown on 24-of-29 passing with no interceptions. Wideout Stephen Louis had three catches for 115 yards and a Sun Bowl record 38.3 yards per catch.
“I’m just going to enjoy this win, what a way to go out for our seniors,” Finley said. “I’m just really going to enjoy it.”
ASU (7-6) was led by quarterback Manny Wilkins, Jr. who passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-40 passing. N’Keal Harry had nine catches for 142 receiving yards and former Sun Bowl MVP Demario Richard ran for a total of 50 yards.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Wilkins also threw three interceptions. ASU had a total of four turnovers that contributed to its loss, the first coming early in the game.
On the second play of the game ASU sophomore Kyle Williams received a pass but then proceeded to fumble the ball while trying to gain extra yards. The ball was recovered by Wolfpack safety Jarius Morehead right at midfield.
Three plays later Finley hit receiver Louis for a 50-yard strike that placed the ball at the Sun Devil 2-yard line. But NC State was not able to punch it in and ended up with zero points after a fake field-goal attempt was unsuccessful.
It would be the only possession of the first half, however, that the Wolfpack would not end up with a touchdown as they scored four consecutive touchdowns the rest of the first half. The first three scores would come on 5-yard runs by Hines.
Hines’ first touchdown run came after the longest drive of the first half, a 15-play, 87-yard drive, punctuated by Hines with under three minutes left in the first quarter.
After a quick three-and-out by ASU, Hines ran for his second touchdown of the day less than a minute into the second quarter, a quarter that marked a total of 31 points, a Sun Bowl record for combined points scored in the second quarter.
The Sun Devils caught a break during their next possession as a roughing the kicker penalty turned a punt into a first down for ASU inside NC State territory. The Sun Devils took advantage of the Wolfpack mistake by marking their first points of the contest, a 24-yard field goal by Brandon Ruiz midway through the second quarter to cut the lead to 14-3.
The NC State offense kept rolling, however, as Hines scored for the third-straight time to tie a Wolfpack record for rushing touchdowns in a bowl game. NC State ballooned its lead to 21-3 with under five minutes left in the first half.
ASU finally reached the end zone on its next possession after Wilkins hit Harry in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Wilkins and Harry also connected on the biggest play of the 7-play, 72-yard drive, a 37-yard pitch and catch that set up the Sun Devils inside the red zone.
With just over two minutes to play in the half, ASU tried to keep the momentum with an onside kick, but the Wolfpack fell on the ball in Sun Devil territory. It took NC State just over a minute to score its fourth touchdown of the half as Finley hit redshirt sophomore Jakobi Meyers on a 25-yard touchdown pass with exactly one minute remaining in the half.
ASU had a chance to add another field goal to its first-half total, but Ruiz missed a 43-yard field goal as time expired. The Wolfpack led 28-10 after one half of play.
The second half started much like the first, NC State came out empty on its first possession, but got the ball back after the Sun Devils once again turned the ball over on their first possession of the half. This time it was off of a deflected-ball interception by Wolfpack cornerback Nick McCloud, who returned the pick 52 yards to the ASU 13-yard line.
This time NC State converted the turnover into points after a Kyle Bambard 26-yard field goal upped the Wolfpack lead to 31-10. Bambard would be named the John Folmer Most Valuable Special Teams Player after the game.
The Sun Devils would once again be aided by a NC State mistake during a punt on their next possession. With Hines back deep to return, the punt bounced off the helmet of Nicolas Lacy. ASU recovered the ball at the Wolfpack 27-yard line, but on the next play gave the ball right back after Wilkins threw a pick in the end zone to Morehead, who added an interception to his fumble recovery.
NC State proceeded to go on a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 23-yard touchdown run by running back Reggie Gallaspy II. Gallaspy’s run gave the Wolfpack its biggest lead of the contest at 38-10 and would be the first of two fourth-quarter touchdown runs for the junior.
The Sun Devils tried to get back into the game by scoring a couple of touchdowns within less than a minute’s time of each other. Wilkins scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper and then, after a successful onside kick, hit Kyle Williams with a 19-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead in half and make it a two-possession game at 38-24 with just under nine minutes left in the game.
But that’s as close as ASU would get as two more onside kick attempts would fail and NC State would score 14 of the final 21 points of the game.
The Wolfpack comes out with a win during their first visit to El Paso and wins consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2010-11. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, lose at the Sun Bowl for the first time since 1941. ASU had won its last three Sun Bowl appearances (1997, 2004, 2014).