Central Michigan Holds Off Washington State Rally to Win 2021 Sun Bowl

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVDecember 31, 2021

Central Michigan's Lew Nichols III, right, rushes against Eastern Michigan's Robert Daniel Jr. (21) during an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Central Michigan won 31-10. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis

Lew Nichols III rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown, leading Central Michigan to a 24-21 win over Washington State in the 2021 Sun Bowl.

The Chippewas raced out to a 21-0 first-half lead before holding on for the program's first bowl win since 2012. 

Daniel Richardson added 208 passing yards and a touchdown against an interception.

Central Michigan and Washington State came together for the Sun Bowl after both of their original bowl opponents pulled out of games with COVID-19 issues. Central Michigan was originally supposed to play Boise State in the Arizona Bowl, and Miami was Washington State's original Sun Bowl opponent.

Down by three touchdowns at halftime, Washington State battled back and had a chance to take a lead late in the fourth quarter but fell short. Victor Gabalis led the way with 180 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Notable Stats

Washington State

QB Victor Gabalis: 12-of-23 passing, 180 yards, 2 touchdowns
RB Nakia Watson: 17 carries, 62 yards
WR Lincoln Victor: 5 receptions, 88 yards, 1 TD

Central Michigan

QB Daniel Richardson: 17-of-33 passing, 208 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
RB Lew Nichols III: 29 carries, 137 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 receptions, 38 yards
WR JaCorey Sullivan: 7 receptions, 83 yards 

Lew Nichols III Gives Central Michigan Hope Moving Forward

Jim McElwain is still program-building at Central Michigan, but he appears to have a star at running back. Nichols closed the regular season with eight straight 100-yard rushing performances and will almost certainly close 2021 as the nation's leading rusher.

The Chippewas will also bring back Richardson (another freshman), along with sophomore tight end Joel Wilson and junior wideout Kalil Pimpleton.

Central Michigan has not won a conference championship since 2009, when it did so under Butch Jones, but there is enough offensive firepower here to give McElwain's team a chance to be preseason favorites heading into 2022.

Jake Dickert Looks to Mold Program in His Image

The 2021 season was embroiled in controversy for Washington State after coach Nick Rolovich was fired for not undergoing state-mandated COVID-19 vaccination. Rolovich's departure paved the way for Dickert, who was named the Cougars' permanent coach after a win over in-state rival Washington.

Dickert was the defensive coordinator under Rolovich, so some of the staff will remain, but four assistants were also sent packing over their refusal to undergo vaccination. The 38-year-old coach will be tasked with building a staff for the first time.

Washington State went 3-3 in games coached by Dickert, including a 3-1 mark in the Pac-12. 

The Cougars were 7-6 overall, their first season above .500 since 2018, and only their fifth in the last decade.