Fresno State caps comeback season with Hawaii Bowl win
From rock bottom to making history, Fresno State went through one heck of a 12 months.
A year after finishing 1-11 in 2016, the Bulldogs capped off a 10-win season with a 33-27 victory over Houston on Sunday night in the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Fresno State (10-4) became just the second team in FBS history to follow up a 10-loss season with one highlighted by double-digit wins. Miami (Ohio) did it in 2009-10.
“To go from one win to 10 wins is a great accomplishment,” first-year Bulldogs coach Jeff Tedford said. “I‘m so proud of the effort they gave all year long.”
Tedford, who coached California from 2002-12, inherited a team that had lost 10 in a row. After a 1-2 start, with defeats to Alabama and Washington, the Bulldogs ran off eight of nine to win the Mountain West Conference’s West Division before losing to Boise State in the MWC title game.
Junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion threw for 342 yards and ran for two touchdowns Sunday, and senior Jimmy Camacho kicked four field goals as Fresno State ended a six-game bowl skid, capturing its first bowl victory since the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl over Georgia Tech.
McMaryion, a junior who transferred from Oregon State, completed 33 of 48 passes with one interception, and he gained 50 yards on nine carries. However, his fumble midway through the third quarter allowed Houston (7-5) to tie it at 13 on a 31-yard field goal by Caden Novikoff.
Fresno State quickly retook the lead at 20-13 on McMaryion’s second TD of the game, a 6-yard run, with 4:21 left in the third.
The Cougars muffed the ensuing kickoff, giving Fresno State the ball at the 10-yard line, but the Bulldogs had to settle for a short field-goal attempt. That didn’t work out, as Houston junior Jeremy Winchester blocked the 25-yard try and it bounced into the hands of junior Alexander Myres, who brought it back 94 yards. The play knotted the score at 20 with 2:54 left in the third.
Camacho’s third field goal, a 26-yarder, put Fresno State ahead for good at 23-20 with 13:56 left in the fourth quarter. He added a 33-yard kick with six minutes remaining, and sophomore cornerback Jaron Bryant scored on a 44-yard interception return TD with 3:49 remaining.
“It was a total team effort,” Tedford said.
Houston scored on a 2-yard pass from junior D‘Eriq King to junior Linell Bonner with 45 seconds left to get within six, but the Cougars were unable to recover an onside kick.
King had 307 yards of total offense, hitting on 23 of 43 passes for 269 yards and rushing for 38 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and one interception. Cougars senior wide receiver Steven Dunbar caught 10 passes for 197 yards.
It was Houston’s fourth loss this season by six or fewer points.
“I told the team that we’ve got to go back ... and see what it is about four games we lost by a touchdown or less,” Houston coach Major Applewhite said. “We’ve got to be better down the stretch to win those closer games.”
The Cougars took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter by reaching deep into the playbook. Following a 48-yard reception by Dunbar on a flea-flicker, sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver scored on a 1-yard run.
“We’d practiced it enough and finally it was a situation where we felt good about it,” Applewhite said of using Oliver, a consensus All-American who won the Outland Trophy this season as college football’s top defensive player, on offense.
Oliver also had four tackles, two for loss, despite still feeling the effects of having stepped on a sea urchin on Thursday.
Fresno State failed to get a first down on its first four possessions, gaining just 5 total yards, before going 68 yards on 11 plays with McMaryion’s 1-yard run tying it at 7 early in the second quarter.
The teams traded field goals over the remainder of the period, with Camacho’s kicks from 27 and 38 yards (the latter coming on the final play of the first half) sandwiched around a 31-yarder from Novikoff.
NOTES: Houston coach Major Applewhite, who was the team’s offensive coordinator last season under Tom Herman, handled play-calling duties after offensive coordinator Brian Johnson left to become offensive coordinator at Florida. ... Fresno State senior K Jimmy Camacho set the school single-season field-goal record with 25. ... It was the first meeting between Houston and Fresno State. ... Fresno State was making its second trip to the islands this season, having won 31-21 against Hawaii on Nov. 11.