Bay Area bowl game full of local faces

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Foster Farms Bowl homecoming for players, coaches alike

The 16th annual Foster Farms Bowl took place on the evening of Dec. 27 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, as Purdue captured its first bowl victory since 2011 with a 38-35 comeback win over the University of Arizona in a thrilling finish. After being shut out for the entirety of the second half, the Boilermakers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:44 left in regulation on a 38-yard reception by senior wide receiver Anthony Mahoungou.

Trailing 31-14 at halftime, Arizona clamped down on defense in the second half and tallied a pair of touchdowns midway through the third quarter to get within striking distance. The two sides traded punts back and forth until late in the fourth quarter. Arizona grabbed a late lead when sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate connected on a 24-yard touchdown throw to junior wide receiver Shun Brown with under three and a half minutes remaining in the game.

Purdue raced 75 yards down the field in just over 90 seconds to take the lead on Mahoungou’s touchdown catch, capping an eight-play, game-clinching drive.

Wednesday night’s victory marked the culmination of an incredible turnaround for the Purdue football program, led by first-year head coach Jeff Brohm, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback in the mid-1990’s.

“That’s a memory you’ll cherish for the rest of your life and they definitely earned it because they’ve put in the hard work and gone through the adversity,” Brohm said. “It’s a proud moment to be the coach of this football team and I couldn’t be happier.”

Brohm stepped in and led the Boilermakers to a 7-6 overall record, their largest win total since 2011, ending a stretch of four consecutive seasons of three wins or less. The season-ending win was significant for Purdue because it clinched a winning record for the season and now allows the players to go into the offseason on a high note.

“It’s huge,” said Purdue sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar. “It sets the tone for next year. Guys are in good spirits. They’ll be excited to go into spring ball instead of kind of moping around because we lost. We won, we got a winning record, we really flipped it around from last year, and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Tate garnered much of the attention leading into this game due to his breakout regular season. The young phenom took the nation by storm this fall with an incredible run of performances from the month of October through the end of the schedule. Tate became the first quarterback in Pac-12 history to rush for over 1,000 yards and will be remembered for his unreal showing against Colorado in October when he ran for 327 yards, a FBS record for a quarterback in a single game.

Arizona was able to limit Tate to a mere 58 yards on the ground, forcing him to hang in the pocket and make plays downfield with his arm. He threw for a career-high five touchdowns, but ultimately fired an interception on the team’s final possession to seal the victory for the Boilermakers.

Throughout the years, the Arizona football program has largely been comprised of players from the state of California, the university’s most heavily recruited region, and this season was no different. A grand total of 45 players on this year’s roster call California home, and the incoming recruiting class for 2018 has 10 new California natives. It’s fitting that the team would be selected to play in the Foster Farms Bowl, one of only three bowls in the state and the only one in Northern California.

There was a trio of players with ties to Northern California that all made an impact on the offensive side of the ball for the Wildcats, not only in this game but throughout the entire season.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Tony Ellison is a Granite Bay native, just a little under 40 miles from Davis. Ellison has endured quite the tumultuous journey to get to where his today. After tearing his ACL a mere four games into his senior season of high school, his prospects of playing at the next level took a sudden turn. Despite the injury, Arizona kept his scholarship offer on the table, giving the young receiver a chance to rehab and still play at a Division I program the following year. After a couple of up-and-down seasons, Ellison enjoyed a breakout campaign this year, showing off big-play ability from the slot and averaging 15 yards per reception, which ranks him fifth among Pac-12 players.

“I’m so happy for him because he works so hard, and he’s been injured so many times,” said teammate Jacob Alsadek, a redshirt senior right guard and team captain. “He’s pushed through it and done really well.”

Ellison played the best game of his college career on Wednesday night, hauling in four receptions and two touchdowns for a total of 102 yards. Despite the tough loss, he has a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season at Arizona, as the majority of the young offense will be returning for at least another season or two.

Redshirt sophomore Cody Creason, from nearby Folsom, split time at right tackle this season for the Wildcats. He has appeared in every single game the past two seasons, racking up four starts last season and three this year.

“He’s done very well for himself,” Alsadek said. “He plays hard and he’s so athletic. Hopefully he can have a good spring and continue doing well next year.”

In addition, redshirt sophomore Alex Kosinski saw action in six games this season, mainly at the right guard position. The Marin County native has shown versatility for the Wildcats, capable of playing multiple positions along the offensive line.

Both lineman were instrumental in paving the way for the top scoring team in the conference, which averaged over 41 points per game. Arizona’s offensive line, a dominant and experienced unit, also allowed the fewest number of sacks in the Pac-12.

Levi’s Stadium will be at the center of the college football universe exactly 12 months from now, when the Santa Clara venue hosts the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship. Over the last few years, the Bay Area has continued to become more and more of a destination for high-profile college football games. The Foster Farms Bowl, previously held at San Francisco’s AT&T Park until 2013, has been the region’s lone bowl game since its inception in 2002. Starting in 2014, Levi’s Stadium has been the host of the annual Pac-12 Football Championship Game every December. Overall, hosting the sport’s most anticipated game of the year next January will only further contribute to the emergence of the Bay Area as one of the premier college football markets in the nation.

 

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org