BULLDOGS WIN THEIR FIRST LAS VEGAS BOWL
LAS VEGAS —Ronnie Rivers wasn’t sure he was going to play this season, after suffering a foot injury in spring practice.
But the sophomore running back from Fresno State capped his season by being named MVP after rushing for 212 yards and two touchdowns to help No. 19 Fresno State beat Arizona State 31-20 in front of announced gathering of 37,146 in the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
Rivers’ rushing total of 212 yards ranked second in Las Vegas Bowl history, behind Utah’s Mike Anderson (254) in 1999, while he also finished second with 286 all-purpose yards, behind Boise State’s Doug Martin, who tallied 301 in 2011.
“We didn’t know how Ronnie was going to recover,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “We were really patient with it and did it the right way. We didn’t rush him back. He’s a tough kid. Obviously, he created a spark for us tonight. He got tough yards inside, he stayed patient.
The offensive line did a great job of staying on the guys and making seams for him. That’s not an easy defense to run the ball against. To have Ronnie come back and be a big part of what we do, obviously we think a lot of him. He’s not only a great player, he’s a great young man.”
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion was 15-of-29 passing for 176 yards and rushed for a touchdown and to help Fresno State (12-2) set a school record for wins in a season after going 1-11 two seasons ago.
“They went through a hard time two seasons ago,” Tedford said. “To be able to continue to believe and work your way through that, life is like that. They can be remembered as the only team in NCAA history to go from double-digit losses to back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins. There’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into it. The first year, they got 10 wins as the underdogs. This year they got 12 wins with a target on their chest, and that says even more about it.”
The teams played to a 17-17 tie in the first half, and Arizona State took a 20-17 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter on a 44-yard field goal by Brandon Ruiz.
But Rivers put Fresno State back in front 24-20 with a 68-yard burst up with one minute left in the third quarter, and later added a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“We made some halftime adjustments, and my O-line, they did a great job creating seams for me and also the receivers with their perimeter blocks,” Rivers said. “They did an outstanding job in being able to hold the second-level guys and I just had to go out there and run.”
The Bulldogs overcame turnovers on three consecutive drives in the second half, including when McMaryion threw the first of two interceptions to set up Ruiz’s pull-ahead field goal in the third quarter. Dejonte O’Neal also fumbled off the pylon when reaching out to score on a throwback screen.
“It says a lot about our team,” said Tedford, who became the first head coach to win a Las Vegas Bowl with two different schools. “Our team plays together, believe in one another. They don’t panic and they just keep playing.”
Tedford improved to 2-0 in the Las Vegas Bowl after previously winning with a team from Cal over BYU in 2005.
Fresno State’s Anthoula Kelly added a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown, one of two interceptions for the Bulldogs’ defense, while the stop unit stymied the Sun Devils 10 of 18 times on third down.
“We work so hard every day in practice,” Fresno State linebacker Jeff Allison said. “Coaches don’t give us any breaks, they keep their feet on our necks to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to and we try to do the same thing with each other. Them guys in there really deserve it, they really do.”
The Sun Devils, who managed just 63 yards of offense in the second half, were led by running back Eno Benjamin, who set the school single-season rushing record on a 13-yard run in the second quarter, finishing with 1,642 yards rushing to break Woody Green’s mark of 1,565 yards in 1972.