Fresno State defense locks down Washington State in Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl victory

Fresno State defensive back Morice Norris tackles Washington State wide receiver Renard Bell in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl game at the SoFi Stadium. (Diego Vargas/The Collegian)

Fresno State Football traveled a long way to Inglewood for the Jimmy Kimmel Los Angeles Bowl at the SoFi Stadium, home of the Rams, Chargers and Super Bowl LVI. 

The stadium, which is currently the newest full-time NFL stadium, was a sight to behold as the 360-degree Jumbotron towered over the field and the sleek look of the field provided a fresh environment for the Red Wave.

And Fresno did show up as the majority of the blue SoFi seats were flooded by the Red Wave’s attendance, with 32,405 overall in attendance. Fans’ cheers boomed throughout the stadium as the ‘Dogs won in a 29-6 victory against the Cougars. 

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Zane Pope in the first three minutes of the game. He found every option available as the ‘Dogs bulldozed their way to the endzone, with Haener throwing 118 total yards in the first quarter alone. 

Fresno State had its first lead of the game with 7-0.

The Cougars couldn’t respond as their first drive ended with a punt return. It looked like Haener was going to dominate Washington State’s defense, but the Cougars were able to get a stop, forcing a missed field goal attempt by Fresno State. 

It became a back-and-forth defensive match for both teams. Washington State’s next drive was cut short by the ‘Dogs defense. Fresno State’s offense began to struggle as well

At around 4 minutes in the first quarter, Jordan Mims saved what seemed to be a dead drive from Fresno State, running from the 20 to 40-yard line on third down. But despite the offensive spark, the Cougars stopped the ‘Dogs right before the red zone. 

Washington State ended the first quarter with quarterback Cameron Ward rushing from the 10 to 20-yard line for a first down. 

Ward’s highlight plays stopped there for the first half, and the Fresno State defense took advantage of the weak offensive line and lack of rushing play from Washington. The ‘Dogs offense was then able to capitalize with another touchdown by Mims, gaining a 14-0 lead.

With the return of Bulldog David Perales leading the charge, the defensive line was a consistent stopping power for Fresno State with significant stops from Evan Williams, Morice Norris Jr., Carlton Johnson and Devo Bridges. 

Pressured by Bulldog defensive tackle Leonard Payne Jr., the Cougars stepped on their own end zone lines, forcing a safety for Fresno State. The ‘Dogs increased their lead 16-0 with 11 minutes left of the first half. 

Although it was a dominant lead, Fresno State still had a sloppy game offensively, especially when it came to protecting Haener. In the first half, he got sacked four times. However, the Cougars struggled more, remaining scoreless into halftime.

In the third quarter, Bulldog defensive back LJ Early rushed down at the Cougar’s 8-yard line to intercept a hail-mary play. 

After Fresno State failed to capitalize in its following drive, Washington State flipped the switch offensively, creating a brick wall in front of the quarterback and improving its rushing and passing plays. 

Cougar running back Nakia Watson scored the first points for his team, rushing into the end zone. Washington State tried to go for a two-point conversion, but was stopped by Fresno State. The ‘Dogs were still leading 16-6.

In Fresno State’s next drive, it made sure Washington’s momentum was cut short. Haener threw a 29-yard pass to Mims. Bulldog running back Malik Sherrod followed that, rushing for another first down and putting the ‘Dogs six yards away from the goal. 

Although a penalty pushed Fresno State back five yards, Haener immediately threw a 11-yard touchdown pass to Nikko Remigio, increasing the ‘Dogs’ lead to 23-6. 

The short offensive spark for the Cougars seemed to be a fluke as they continued the struggle in the following drive. They would not score again for the remainder of the game. 

Mims was an offensive firepower for the ‘Dogs. With around eight minutes left of the game, Mims rushed for his second touchdown of the game, scoring the last points of the game and increasing Fresno State’s lead, 29-6.

He led his team in total rushing yards, running for over 200. Mims was also awarded the offensive player of the game. Bulldog defensive lineman Devo Bridges was named the defensive player of the game.

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