EL PASO, Texas— NC State used a balanced attack of 495 total yards and took advantage of four Arizona State turnovers en route to a 52-31 win over Arizona State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso.
The NC State defense was without star defensive end and top NFL Draft prospect Bradley Chubb, who elected to sit out Friday’s game. Despite his absence, the defense got to work early, forcing an Arizona State fumble on the second play from scrimmage recovered by Jairus Morehead.
The Wolfpack would come up just short of cashing in on their opening drive, but a fake field goal attempt by Kyle Bambard was stopped short at the one-yard line. It would be the lone offensive missed opportunity on the day.
After forcing a Sun Devil punt, NC State marched methodically down the field 15 plays for 87 yards capped off with a Nyheim Hines 5-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Hines would later add two more touchdown runs of five yards on consecutive possessions.
The junior running back finished with 74 yards rushing and those three touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP of the game. But he credited the offensive line for their efforts as well.
“The offensive line has been great all year,” Hines said after the game, “They’ve kept me up and protected Ryan as well. It’s definitely great to show off how great they were in this game.”
Meanwhile, Arizona State was fighting their way back in it. After a Brandon Ruiz 24-yard field goal on their previous possession, the Sun Devils got their first touchdown thanks to a Manny Wilkins pass to N’Keal Harry in the back corner of the end zone to make it 21-10.
Feeling the need to make something happen, Arizona State elected to attempt an onside kick to give themselves an extra possession. However, NC State recovered and struck quickly thanks to a Ryan Finley 25-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers to make it 28-10 and seize full control of the game heading into halftime.
“We didn’t execute the kick the right way,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said, “There was confusion on the play and we just didn’t execute. Since we had to kick the ball to them after halftime, I felt like it could be an extra opportunity but it wound up being another turnover for us.”
“We absolutely dominated today,” Finley said, “It all starts with our offensive line and we had a great game plan. When you can run the ball like that, it opens up so many things in terms of offensive production and what a great job those five guys did today.”
The Wolfpack defense further clamped down on the Arizona State offense, forcing two more turnovers in the third quarter. The first came from Nick McCloud that NC State converted into a field goal. The second came from Morehead in the back of the end zone after the Wolfpack fumbled on a punt.
NC State would cash that in on a Reggie Gallaspy II 23-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter that extended the lead to 38-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Sun Devils did come back with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter: a one-yard touchdown run from Manny Wilkins followed by two touchdown passes to Kyle Williams and Frank Darby respectively. But, despite the 352 passing yards on the day, it proved to be too little too late.
“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be but we came out slow,” Arizona State running back Demario Richard said after the game, “You can’t come out slow against a veteran team like that. We made too many mistakes.”
NC State would add two more touchdown runs from Jaylen Samuels and Gallaspy in the fourth quarter to cap off the game. The 83 points scored were the second-highest combined point total in Sun Bowl history, only behind the UCLA-Northwestern Sun Bowl from 2005.
With the win, NC State finishes the season 9-4. Arizona State caps off the year and the end of the Todd Graham era to 7-6. As the Wolfpack enter the offseason, Doeren is also appreciative of the legacy his senior class leaves behind.
“It’s hard to think about life without some of these seniors,” Doeren said, “Top 25 is the standard we want for this program and this senior class got us to that point. It’s the standard where we are and we want to continue to climb. I’m most proud of the way they finished and that makes my job easier to be with guys like that.”
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