By Maximillian C. Burgos | Staff Writer
The No. 24 North Carolina Wolfpack handled the Arizona State Sun Devils with ease in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. The Sun Devils had multiple chances to come back and establish a lead, but were foiled time and time again. Ultimately when the final whistle blew in the game the Wolfpack won 52-31.
The Wolfpack were in the conversation earlier in the season as potential playoff candidates with their tough defense and the decent offense even with their loss to South Carolina in the first game of the season. Once they lost to Notre Dame and Clemson in consecutive weeks, they fell in their ranks and only managed an 8-4 record, getting them a bowl game.
Coming into that game, the Wolfpack were favored and for good reason. Quarterback Ryan Finley has been solid with the football all year and the Wolfpack rushing attack has also been productive.
At halftime, the Wolfpack had gotten out to a to a 28-10 lead. Coming into the third quarter, Arizona State had their shot to come back. They forced a Wolfpack punt. Arizona State was driving the ball downfield, but quarterback Manny Wilkins threw a bad pass that was deflected and picked off by a Wolfpack defender.
The interception return set the Wolfpack up in field goal range. They didn’t move the ball well, but did manage to get the three points from a field goal.
Following the field goal, the Sun Devils stalled on their ensuing drive, but manage to recover a muffed punt by the Wolfpack. Arizona State was set up in great field position to score, but Wilkins overthrew a receiver in double coverage and was picked off in the end zone.
The Wolfpack came down the field again and punched the ball into the end zone pushing the score to 38-10. Arizona State did manage to put together two drives where they walked away with touchdowns back-to-back.
For a second, a comeback was almost on its way. The Sun Devils drove the ball 76 yards in 12 plays to score on a one-yard rush by Wilkins. On the play, Wilkins hurdled a defender and collided with a defender in the air, but managed to score the touchdown with his forward momentum.
The Sun Devils recovered the ball on the ensuing kickoff and put together another four-play 45-yard drive for a touchdown. This time Wilkins connected with receiver Kyle Williams on a 19-yard pass that couldn’t have been placed any better in the back corner of the end zone.
Arizona State attempted another onside kick, but to no avail. The Wolfpack recovered the ball and scored again. The Sun Devils responded with a touchdown of their own, but it wasn’t enough. Wilkins threw a third interception, ending the hope of a Sun Devil comeback in the game.
At the end of the day, both teams battled and played competitively. The Wolfpack’s offense was firing on all cylinders the entire game. Finely completed 24 out of his 29 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown. Running backs Reggie Gallaspy II and Nyheim Hines took turns rushing the ball and scoring touchdowns.
Gallaspy II carried the ball 12 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Hines ran the ball 16 times for 73 yards and three more touchdowns. Tightend Jaylen Samuels also carried the ball six times for 20 yards and a touchdown. He also caught the ball seven times for 46 yards.
The Arizona State offense had its stars. Despite his three costly interceptions, Wilkins passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for another 13 yards and an acrobatic rushing touchdown.
The Sun Devils rushing attack seemed nonexistent and barely played a factor in the game. The most impressive play that came from the Sun Devils offense was a connection between Wilkins and receiver N’Keal Harry. The two connected on a 37-yard pass that Harry tipped to himself twice before catching that ball. Harry had a bid day on top of that sensational play, catching nine balls for 142 yards and a touchdown.
The Sun Devils loss marks the last game for head coach Todd Graham. Todd Graham went 46-31 with the Sun Devils in his tenure with the team. Herm Edwards will succeed him as head coach next year.