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Marathon Cactus Bowl won by West Virginia’s offense

By Staff | Jan 8, 2016

What an appropriate sponsor the Cactus Bowl had!

After over four hours of late-night football, West Virginia had beaten host Arizona State, 43-42, in a bowl game that only ended at 2:34 a.m. in the Eastern Standard time zone.

Everybody in West Virginia’s travel party was ready to retreat to their Motel 6 — the game’s sponsor — where the light had been left on . . . and celebrate later.

Skyler Howard threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns as the Mountaineers gouged out 676 yards of total offense against the Sun Devils. And it was just barely enough to claim the win that closed the up-and-down season with an 8-5 record. The taking-punches Sun Devils were 6-7 with the loss at Chase Field, only 11 miles from their campus in Tempe.

Even though West Virginia was 0-for-7 on its first tries at third-down conversions, it still led, 22-18 by halftime.

Field goals by Josh Lambert got some points when touchdowns couldn’t be found.

As points became easier to score for both sides in the second half, the Mountaineers clung to a 36-32 lead moving into the big-play fourth quarter.

When the Sun Devils, who produced over 500 yards of total offense themselves, scored a go-ahead touchdown with just over four minutes remaining, they increased a five-point lead to 42-36 with a one-point conversion.

Could the Mountaineers continue their uninterrupted march through ASU’s beleaguered defense?

They did.

Howard and company moved 75 yards in 10 plays — twice converting third down situations into first downs — and took a 43-42 lead when converted quarterback David Sills caught his only pass of the desert night. Lambert’s PAT — not a certainty after Arizona State had blocked one attempt and returned it for two points — was true . . . and the Mountaineer people among the announced crowd of 39,321 inside Chase Field brandished their blue and gold colors anew.

On the to-be-famous last scoring drive, the Mountaineers were fortunate one fumble was badly misplayed by a Sun Devil lineman (with West Virginia finally recovering) and then Wendell Smallwood broke free on a 24-yard, third-down run when the Mountaineers needed 22 yards for a first down.

Mountaineer receivers Shelton Gibson (four catches for 143 yards), Ka’Raun White (four catches for 116 yards) and Dakil Shorts (six catches for 97 yards and two scores) were on the receiving end of most of Howard’s 28 pass completions.

When Jared Barber tipped Arizona State’s last pass attempt, West Virginia had won the exhausting battle . . . and enabled the people watching back home to wearily climb into their beds just a little before 3 a.m. And allow the team to get back to their Motel 6, where the light bill was about to bankrupt the Cactus Bowl coffers, they had been on for so long.