Is it a pass? No, it’s a fumble for Stanford’s winning TD in Sun Bowl

Updated 3:24 pm PST, Monday, December 31, 2018

El Paso, Texas – Stanford’s offense was stymied most of the afternoon but got a touchdown on a freak play Monday. It turned out to be the game-winner in the Sun Bowl.

From the Pitt 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter, quarterback K.J Costello faked a handoff to Cameron Scarlett. Costello was hit by defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and fumbled, but the ball flew directly to Scarlett, who caught it standing up in the endzone.

The bizarre play gave Stanford a 14-13 lead it never relinquished, putting the capper on a 9-4 season for the Cardinal. They ended the season with four straight wins.

It was the second touchdown of the day for Scarlett, who rushed for a career-high 94 yards in 22 carries after starting in place of the injured Bryce Love.

They were missing five offensive starters. Wide receiver Trent Irwin, tight end Kaden Smith and left tackle Walker Little were out with injuries in addition to Love, and guard Nate Herbig chose to skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft.

Their absence seemed to have a major effect for most of the game, especially on the Cardinal’s usually strong passing game. Stanford’s first four possessions were three-and-outs, and after a scoring drive, the offense collected just three first downs over its next five possessions.

But Costello hit JJ Arcega-Whiteside for a 49-yard gain to the Pitt 3 to set up the fumble-touchdown.

“That’s way it’s been for us the entire season,” head coach David Shaw said. “We see our guys get hurt, get banged up. We had guys step up. We didn’t play our best football, but when it was time to make the plays to win the game, we made the plays to win the game.”

Arcega-White made three catches for 90 yards to surpass 1,000 yards for the season, the first Stanford receiver to pass the milestone since Troy Walters in 1999. He didn’t get the touchdown catch he needed to break the school season record of 14 he shared with Hall of Famer James Lofton.

“Getting that last win with these guys that I basically grind it every day with — we have a special connection on this team,” said Arcega-Whiteside, a redshirt junior who is expected to forego his last year of eligibility and turn pro.“ Getting this last win is amazing. I can’t even describe it.”

Michael Wilson wrapped it up for Stanford by getting its final first down in the closing seconds on a 9-yard end-around.

The Panthers (7-7) lost their leading rusher, Qadree Ollison, to an ankle injury in the first quarter. But their other 1,000-yard rusher, Darrin Hall, gained 123 yards on 16 carries.

Pitt had a 344-203 advantage in total yardage.

The Panthers opened the scoring with a 29-yard field goal by Alex Kessman early in the second quarter. The kick glanced off the right upright. Hall’s 47-yard was the big play in the drive.

Finally, the Cardinal got their offense rolling in the second quarter. Scarlett’s 1-yard touchdown run capped a 64-yard highlighted by Dorian Maddox’s 15-yard run and Costello’s 29-yard pass to JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

Hall’s 6-yard touchdown run regained the lead 10-7. Quarterback Kenny Pickett completed both his passes for 24 yards and ran four times for 30 yards on the 75-yard drive.

At the half, Stanford trailed by just three points even though Pitt had a 226-85 advantage in total yardage. It was the first time the Cardinal has trailed at the half in eight games under head coach David Shaw.

Pitt extended its lead to 13-7 in the third quarter on Kessman’s 28-yard field goal.

A 16-yard punt by the usually dependable Jake Bailey allowed the Panthers to start at their 44. A 41-yard pass from Pickett to Taysir Mack put the ball at the Stanford 9. The Cardinal defense stiffened, leading to the field goal.

Following the fumble touchdown, the Panthers move to the Stanford 37. Instead of punting on 4th-and-12 from the Stanford 37, head coach Pat Narduzzi opted to try a 55-yard field goal. But Kessman’s attempt was way wide.

Neither quarterback had a great day. Costello was 6-for-17 for 105 yards, and Pickett was 11-for-29 for 136 yards.

Briefly: Wilson, starting at wide receiver in place of Irwin, made a nice grab of a short pass for Stanford’s initial first down in the second quarter. He then took a big hit from linebacker Chase Pine. … Stanford’s injury problems in the offensive line continued early in the second half when right tackle A.T. Hall appeared to hurt his right knee. … Pitt lost its punter, Kirk Christodoulou, to an ankle injury in the third quarter.

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