Rivers, Fresno State top Sun Devils in Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS — Ronnie Rivers rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns, Anthoula “Tank” Kelly had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown and No. 19 Fresno State beat Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

Marcus McMaryion rushed for a touchdown and was 15-of-29 passing for 176 yards to help the Bulldogs (12-2) set a school record for wins in a season. He also threw two interceptions.

“It’s a group that persevered,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “This group can be remembered as the only team in NCAA history that went a double-digit losing season to back-to-back double-digit winning seasons.

Eno Benjamin rushed for 118 yards a one touchdown for the Sun Devils (7-6) in their third straight bowl loss. Manny Wilkins threw for 129 yards, with a 3-yard scoring pass to Kyle Williams and two interceptions.

Rivers put Fresno State back in front 24-20 with a 68-yard touchdown run up the middle in the third quarter and had a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to seal Fresno State’s second win over a Pac-12 opponent this season.

Wilkins said he did not sustain an injury despite taking a hit to the knee on the final pass of his college career, which was intercepted by Juju Hughes.

Arizona State took a 20-17 lead on Brandon Ruiz‘s 44-yard field goal in the third quarter after Aashari Crosswell intercepted McMaryion’s pass at the Fresno State 39.

McMaryion’s pass was intercepted by Chase Lucas on his next throw, an ill-fated heave downfield after reversing field under pressure. The senior had thrown three interceptions in 398 pass attempts during the regular season and Mountain West title game.

“You got to score points, especially when you get the ball where we possessed it,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “We made it a game we wanted to play in. We made it uncomfortable for them. But then they got a score. We had to catch up a little bit and that’s where they can really come after you.”

With the teams tied at 17 after the first half, it looked as if Fresno State was going to go back in front on its first possession of the third quarter on a throwback screen from McMaryion to Dejonte O’Neal but video review showed the senior wide receiver lost possession of the ball diving for the pylon and Shannon Forman recovered in the end zone.

Benjamin set the record with a 13-yard run in the second quarter, passing Woody Green’s mark of 1,565 yards rushing in 1972. Benjamin scored his 16th rushing touchdown of the season on the following play from scrimmage, giving Arizona State its first lead at 14-10.

THE TAKEAWAY

The Sun Devils will be disappointed to finish with the exact same record as last season, but signs of progress under Edwards are evident. The defense found several young playmakers and mostly played well without freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson. The offense, which played without star wide receiver N’Keal Harry after he declared for the NFL draft, will have to be upgraded to contend in the Pac-12.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Fresno State should finish the season ranked for the third time in school history and should earn its highest final-ranking ever. Arizona State could merit consideration from voters in the preseason poll.

UP NEXT

The Sun Devils need to replace Wilkins, and with commitments from three top high school quarterbacks, it seems his successor might not have been in uniform at the Las Vegas Bowl. If Arizona State can find stability there quickly, the pieces look to be in place to challenge Utah and Southern California in the Pac-12 South.