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Wolfpack hang on to beat emotional Sun Devils 52-31 in Hyundai Sun Bowl

Gaby Velasquez
NC State running back Nyheim Hines scored three touchdowns as he led his team to victory.

Although there were a few defensive lapses, untimely penalties and the occasional mesmerizing play to keep the Arizona State Sun Devils in Friday afternoon’s Sun Bowl, the North Carolina State Wolfpack looked the better team from start to finish in their 52-31 victory.

With outgoing ASU head coach Todd Graham pulling out all the stops, the NCSU defense and special teams saw trick plays from start to finish, including a recovered onside kick with just over nine minutes left in the game. The Sun Devils would convert on the drive – quarterback Manny Wilkins’ second touchdown pass of the day – to bring the score to 38-24 following the extra point.

A second ASU onside kick was recovered by the Wolfpack and much like the rest of the day, the Sun Devil defense was unable to stop NC State from scoring. Receiver Jaylen Samuels, who earlier in the 84th annual Sun Bowl game became the Wolfpack’s all-time leader in receptions, ran the ball in to make the score 45-24.

As the sun set on the Sun Bowl and the minutes began to wane, ASU scored again with two minutes to go on Wilkins’ third touchdown pass of the game. The inevitable onside kick was returned by the Wolfpack’s Samuels to the three-yard line.

It took six seconds for running back Reggie Gallaspy to push the ball across the goal line for NCSU for his second touchdown of the day. Following his late touchdown, Gallaspy still trailed starting Wolfpack running back Nyheim Hines’ total of three touchdowns on the day – all in the first half.

A last gasp throw by ASU’s Wilkins was intercepted by NC State, his third of the day. On the opposite side, NC State’s quarterback Ryan Finley – who ended the day 24-for-29 for 318 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions – was left to take several knees and the game was over.

Following the game, Wilkins was presented to the assembled media and was almost too emotional to speak. Running back Demario Richard took the microphone and spoke tersely to the assembled press.

“We made too many mistakes,” said Richard looking around the room with bloodshot eyes. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”

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The most points ever scored by both teams in one quarter in Sun Bowl history, 42, was not enough to bring the Sun Devils back in a fourth quarter that was beyond exciting.

Of course, the record could have been avoided all together had the Wolfpack not shot out of the gates to a 28-10 halftime lead, aided in large part by untimely ASU turnovers and virtually no defensive pressure.

“We turned the ball over four times,” said Graham, still searching for answers in the post-game press conference. “We haven’t turned the ball over four times all year; we haven’t turned the ball over more than twice all year.”

Going into the Sun Bowl, the Sun Devils had turned the ball over 16 times this season.

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley made no bones about the fact that his team felt little to no pressure from the ASU defense all day.

“We stay on the field for a long time,” said Finley, who said following the Sun Bowl that he has not decided whether he will be back for his senior season or go to the NFL. “We run it down their throat and convert on third down and we finish those drives off with touchdowns.”

Both teams finished with plenty of touchdowns on Friday, setting a plethora of Sun Bowl records in the process – not just the record-setting fourth quarter.

The 31 combined points in the second quarter, 21 by NC State and 10 by ASU, were a Sun Bowl record, as well.

Additionally, NC State’s six rushing touchdowns were a Sun Bowl record.

After all of the points were tallied and the hardware had been passed out – NC State running back Nyheim Hines was named the Sun Bowl MVP – there was only one thing left to do for NC State head coach Dave Doeren and his team.

“I’m going to party my butt off,” said Doeren to the delight of the Wolfpack players flanking the podium. “That’s what we do. We win, we have fun, we go back to work.”

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Wolfpack hang on to beat emotional Sun Devils 52-31 in Hyundai Sun Bowl