Cougars drop Hawai’i Bowl in tight race with Fresno State
The Cougars closed out their 2017 football season with a 27-33 loss in the Hawai’i Bowl to the Fresno State Bulldogs. The Cougars finished their season with a record of 7-5 in Major Applewhite’s first year as head coach, dropping their second bowl game in a row.
In a game that was dominated by defense early on, the Cougars were able to move the ball with big plays down the field from the arm of sophomore quarterback D’Eriq King to the hands of senior wide receiver Steven Dunbar.
After Houston and Fresno State exchanged three-and-outs to begin the game, the Cougars were able to pull off a flea flicker on their second drive that went 48 yards from King to Dunbar, bringing the team to the Bulldogs’ one-yard line. A one-yard run from Ed Oliver — yes, Ed Oliver — put the Cougars up 7-0 early on.
The touchdown marked a college career-first for Oliver, the star sophomore defensive tackle.
An interception by senior linebacker D’Juan Hines on the ensuing drive had the Cougars set up in prime scoring position with opportunity to break the game open early. However, a missed 45-yard field goal kept the score 7-0.
Fresno State, unable to convert a first down until the 1:37 mark of the first quarter, woke up in the second. The Bulldogs started with a 1-yard TD from junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion.
The Bulldogs then converted a field goal to take a 10-7 lead with 9:45 left in the second. On the ensuing drive, King threw another big pass to Dunbar, this time for 50 yards. A Cougar field goal would even up the score again, 10-10.
A missed field goal from the Bulldogs on the following drive set Houston up with great field position and an opportunity to regain the lead. A 20-yard connection from King to Dunbar had the Cougars deep in Bulldog territory, but a turnover on downs kept them off of the scoreboard.
Fresno State took the football and went 50 yards, ending the half with a field goal to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter began as Hines forced a fumble, recovered by the Cougars, leading to a Houston field goal to once again tie the game at 13.
The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on the next drive to retake the lead, 20-13. After a fumble by the Cougars on the following kickoff, the Bulldogs seemed in prime position to take the game over.
After forcing the Bulldogs to go three-and-out, the Cougars blocked their field goal attempt and returned it 94 yards to tie the game yet again, this time at 20.
From that point on, it was all Fresno State.
After two fourth quarter field goals from the Bulldogs, Houston found itself with a chance to win the game. The Cougars picked up two first downs, and a midfield position gave them a chance to put points on the board.
But King threw an interception the next play that was returned for a touchdown to put Fresno State up 33-20 late in the game.
A resilient, 76-yard touchdown drive by the Cougars that ended with a 2-yard pass from King to senior wide receiver Linell Bonner with just seconds to go brought the game to one possession, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Fresno State to end all hopes of a comeback.
Although the Cougars couldn’t bring a bowl victory to Houston for Christmas, they seem to have found the heir at quarterback for next season. King and the Cougars will look to reach greater heights in 2018 after having an entire offseason to improve before his second shot as Houston’s starting quarterback.