Purdue Defeats Arizona 38-35 In Wild Bowl Game

Dec 28, 2017

Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar holds aloft the trophy for winning the Foster Farms Bowl. Sindelar was named the game's offensive MVP.
Credit Stan Jastrzebski / WBAA News

There have been all kinds of studies, write-ups, radio programs and blog posts about how we're all crazy to "feel" momentum in a sporting event.

But somehow, all at once, Purdue's first trip to a bowl game in five years seemed to prove both the scientists and their skeptics right.

You'd have had to close off your senses not to feel like Arizona's explosive offense had the momentum when it rattled off 14 consecutive points in the first quarter of the game, following a Purdue score.

Anyone could see Purdue had the momentum going into halftime after not only tying the score at 14, but putting up 17 additional, unanswered points in the second quarter to lead by that same total.

It was clear to even the casual onlooker that Arizona dominated the third quarter in much the same fashion Purdue had the second, closing the gap to just three points.

And when the Wildcats finally took the lead back with a little more than three minutes left on the fourth quarter game clock (after seeming on the doorstep for the better part of an hour on the actual clock), who wouldn't have believed that the momentum was in the Pac-12 team's favor?

Apparently Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar and senior wide receiver Anthony Mahoungou, that's who.

Mahoungou quoted his coaching staff after the game, remembering what he'd been told, over and over again, about overcoming adversity: “Don’t tell me how rough the seas are, just bring me the damn ship. I just had to bring the damn ship.”

And so Mahoungou, playing with a shoulder he'd injured on the play before, out-wrestled Arizona defensive back Lorenzo Burns for Sindelar's pass with 1:39 to go in the game to enact the final (momentum-shifting?) move in a topsy-turvy, evenly-matched contest. As Burns lay on the Levi's Stadium end zone turf, Mahoungou celebrated the game-changing score that put the final coda on a career that's taken him from his native France to West Lafayette to Santa Clara, California.

”When I saw Anthony make that play at the end, I probably jumped up like a little girl on the sidelines,” said sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey.

Still, it was not until safety Jacob Thieneman (who'd also been hurt earlier in the game) intercepted an errant deep ball by Tate with a little more than a minute remaining that it was clear momentum no longer had anything to do with the game's outcome (if it ever had at all).

In the game, Purdue accomplished its main goal -- stop the Wildcat rushing attack led by quarterback Khalil Tate, who'd set a single-game QB rushing record against Colorado earlier in the year when he tallied 327 yards on the ground.

Tate, who'd been averaging about 10 yards per carry coming into the game, was held to just 58 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Game over, right? Wrong.

Purdue's stingy rush defense several times left Tate open receivers to find behind the Purdue secondary, leading to easy touchdown passes throughout the game -- five in all for the Wildcat signal-caller.

But those five TD catches represented almost a third of Arizona's 17 total receptions. Purdue, which asked Sindelar to throw the ball 53 times in the game, saw 33 of those hauled in, including 20 combined by Mahoungou (six) and fellow senior Gregory Phillips (14).

Phillips came into the game with 30 catches all season, and proceeded to increase that total by nearly 50-percent against an Arizona defense that had struggled to halt opposing offenses.

“We had two senior receivers step up and play their tail off today," Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said after the game.

But the most talked-about play after the game was a run -- or was it a kneel down?

With about 40 seconds to go in the first half, Purdue had gotten the ball back and looked ready to run out the clock and receive the second half kickoff. The Boilermakers huddled closely around Sindelar, with running backs D.J. Knox and Markell Jones flanking him. Sindelar took the snap, seemed ready to kneel, and then handed the ball to Knox, who scampered for 30 yards. The play put Purdue in position to kick a field goal at the end of the half, increasing a 14-point lead to 17 as the teams went to the locker room.

“It got us a chance to score a touchdown," Brohm said. "Fortunately, we got a field goal and we won by three.”

But Arizona linebacker Tony Fields, who led all defenders with 13 tackles, saw it differently after his team was on the other end of that deficit.

“The referee told us it was a kneel," Fields said, adding he thought the referees were physically too close to the defense as the play was run. A subsequent review of the play showed no Purdue player touched the ball with a knee to the ground, so the run was upheld.

“We’ve been practicing that play since camp," Knox said. "What week is is now? You don’t want your practice to go in vain.”

And so the team looks forward to next year's camp, coming off a season whose winning record seemed improbable at several junctures.

“There’s a big difference between 6-7 and 7-6,” said senior linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, who's suffered through injuries and three previous losing seasons in his time as a Boilermaker. “7-6, I’ll take it,” he said.

“We’re going to be excited to go into spring ball instead of kind of moping around,” Sindelar said.

Whether the team is now his is a question needing an answer. Sindelar led the team to victories in four of its final five games, including consecutive wins over Iowa and Indiana the team absolutely had to have to even become bowl-eligible.

But the other half of Brohm's QB tandem, David Blough, will be healthy again by next season. Brohm has previously expressed an affinity for a two-quarterback scheme, but is such a plan sustainable in the so-called "Cradle of Quarterbacks"?

Brohm is now 3-0 in bowl games as a head coach, following two wins while the head man at Western Kentucky. From here, the expectations begin to grow. What's next after a winning season and a bowl victory is a tale that starts getting written when the Boilermakers play Northwestern to open the 2018 campaign on August 30.