Stanford football brings home Sun Bowl championship trophy


The 16th-ranked Stanford football team held off North Carolina for a 25-23 victory on Friday in the 83rd Hyundai Sun Bowl.

Fittingly, junior defensive lineman and Texas product Solomon Thomas preserved the victory. Saving his best for last, he sacked Tar Heel quarterback Mitch Trubisky on a two-point conversion attempt with 25 seconds left.

"I was able to get off," said Thomas, who wreaked havoc all game. "Our team played its hearts out. I wanted to do it for my brothers."

His heroic play helped the Cardinal (10-3) close the season with six-consecutive wins and reach 10 victories for the sixth time in seven seasons. North Carolina finished at 8-5.

As was the case much of the season, Stanford had to overcome adversity and costly penalties.

Junior quarterback Keller Chryst, 5-0 as a starter, injured his right knee scrambling with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter when he tried to plant his foot on the turf during a cut. He was helped off the field and carted to the locker room, later returning to sideline on crutches.

The Cardinal committed 12 penalties for 80 yards and sputtered in the red zone, managing four field goals in five trips.

Still, it found a way to win.

"It's a testament to the character of our team," Thomas said.

After a rocky start that saw Stanford go three-and-out on its first possession, North Carolina easily drove 71 yards in 10 plays, Trubisky hitting favorite target Ryan Switzer for a 19-yard touchdown pass.

The Cardinal countered with a 75-yard, six-play march. Chryst used play action to freeze the Tar Heel linebackers, then lofted a well-thrown pass down the sideline to sophomore running back and North Carolina native Bryce Love, who made the catch at the 29 and easily out-ran two defenders to complete a 49-yard scoring play. With 6:11 left in the first quarter, the game was tied 7-7.

Stanford claimed its first lead late in the quarter on a 44-yard field goal by fifth-year senior Conrad Ukropina. But it was costly possession, as Chryst was hurt and replaced by senior Ryan Burns.

Burns, who started the first seven games, had first and 10 at the Tar Heel 16, but the offense sputtered. Ukropina salvaged points by converting his 19th field goal of the season in 23 attempts, and the Cardinal led, 10-7.

The defense provided another great scoring opportunity when the usually accurate Trubisky was intercepted by fifth-year free safety Dallas Llloyd, who read his eyes and stepped in front of Switzer. It was Lloyd's team-leading fourth pick of the season and he displayed his former quarterback skills by returning it 45 yards to the North Carolina 20.

However, the Cardinal was unable to capitalize. Ukropina missed a 36-yard field goal, hitting the (left) upright for the fourth time this season.

The defense created another scoring chance late in the second quarter, with help from the umpire. During a Trubisky run, the official inadvertently knocked the ball loose and lineman Dylan Jackson alertly recovered at the Tar Heel 17.

Burns advanced the ball to the 6 by connecting with sophomore wide receiver Trenton Irwin, who made a juggling catch to complete the 12-yard completion. A holding penalty backed up Stanford, but Ukropina booted a 33-yard field goal to give the Cardinal a 13-7 halftime advantage.

The North Carolina defense entered 113th against the run but limited Stanford to 46 yards and only 1.9 per attempt. While the Cardinal earned a seven-minute time of possession advantage, it self-destructed with six penalties for 45 yards.

The Tar Heels nearly narrowed the deficit with their first possession of the third quarter, but missed a 51-yard field goal attempt. On the next play, junior fullback Daniel Marx sprung Love for a 59-yard run, finally getting dragged down at the North Carolina 7.

Once again, Stanford struggled in the red zone, losing ground on false start and intentional grounding penalties. Ukropina bailed them out with a 43-yard field goal to lift the Cardinal to a 16-7 lead.

The Tar Heels matched it midway through the quarter on 37-yard field goal by Nick Weiler. They benefitted from a questionable 15-yard pass interference call against cornerback Quenton Meeks, who appeared to have good position.

Following a three-and-out by the Stanford offense, North Carolina regained a 17-16 advantage on a 5-yard run by Jordan Brown. The Tar Heels moved at will on the ground and through the air, never facing a third down on the nine-play, 68-yard drive.

Unable to generate a first down, the Cardinal ran three plays and punted to start the fourth quarter. But this time, the defense rose to the occasion.

Trubisky tried to find running back T.J. Logan sneaking out of the backfield on the near sideline, but Lloyd sniffed it out, intercepted and sprinted 19 yards untouched into the end zone. Stanford went for a two-point conversion with Burns lobbing a jump ball to JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone. He went high for the catch between two defenders but couldn't come down with the ball.

With 14:33 remaining, the Cardinal pulled ahead, 22-17.

North Carolina came right back and moved into field goal range. But on third down, outside linebacker Bobby Okereke sacked Trubisky for a 13-yard loss and forced a punt.

Looking to put the game away, Stanford used trickery. Lining up in the wildcat formation, the ball was snapped to running back Cameron Scarlett, who handed off to Love running left. Burns, who had been flanked wide left, ran back toward Love, took a pitch, then fired deep for fifth-year senior wide receiver Francis Owusu. He made a nice catch falling backward to complete a 41-yard play to the Tar Heel 22.

A face mask penalty gave the Cardinal first and goal at the 1, but the red zone problems continued. Twice, North Carolina stuffed Stanford for no gain. On third and goal, Burns ran the option to the right and pitched to Love who was dropped for a 3-yard loss. Ukropina kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Cardinal a 25-17 cushion with 3:23 to play.

Following a Tar Heel punt, Stanford could have iced the contest but couldn't gain a first down. That gave Trubisky another chance and he made the most of it.

Starting from his own 3 with 1:30 left, he dissected the Cardinal defense and his receivers made several tough catches. As he had most of the game, Trubisky eluded several near sacks and found Bug Howard with a 2-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining.

Needing a two-point conversion to tie and force overtime, Trubisky dropped back to throw and looked for Switzer in the end zone. But Thomas capped a monster performance by dragging him down by his jersey with his right hand for a sack.

In only his second start, Love rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries. Burns completed 6 of 11 passes for 86 yards and Chryst hit 3 of 6 for 68.

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4 people like this
Posted by Wha?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2016 at 9:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by retribution
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2016 at 11:58 pm

QB Ray Burns got his rightful chance to prove that he could win with a much improved offensive line against a very good team today. He won games vs tough opponents at the beginning of the season and then had his job stripped away from him unmercifully by Coach Shaw [portion removed.] Ray Burns, outplayed Keller Chryst and has all season--and, today Ray Burns won the game despite some very questionable play calling by the coaches [portion removed.] It was awesome to see Ray Burns overcome all that was thrown at him and still lead his team to victory in today's Sun Bowl game. Congratulations, Ray Burns--you earned this through all of your hard work, and without whining about how unfair it was that the job was yanked from you in the first place.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 31, 2016 at 9:18 am

@ retribution, you might start with getting the name correct (Ryan not Ray Burns). You clearly have not followed the season closely. Burns was replaced by Chryst due to Burns' ineffectiveness. All the games that Chryst started were won by Stanford. Chryst was really starting to's a shame that he got hurt. Burns showed how ineffective he is by backing out of the red zone several times.

Congrats to Stanford, especially its defense, for a tough game in the trenches.

1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2016 at 11:26 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

[Post removed due to factual inaccuracy.]

1 person likes this
Posted by retribution
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2016 at 1:49 pm

sorry, yes the name is ryan not ray-- but, that was all that was inaccurate. the only reason chryst won was the competition was pathetic. passes 15 or 20 yards overthrown and to open receivers. sure, he may have a great arm--but very inaccurate. Ryan was set up right from the beginning of the season. In yesterday's game, Ryan's time on the field scored 18 points. Chryst scored 7. Ryan's effectiveness was greatly hurt by some very poor and questionable play calling by the coaches. seriously-- 3rd and inches and an option is run? really-- two power plays would definitely have resulted in a touchdown--Ryan's fault--NOT!! We have followed Stanford the entire year and that is the reason we are so upset about how unfair it has been to Ryan and his senior year as the legit Stanford QB. it wasn't Ryan's fault that the line took so long to gel to allow the QB to have time to do anything other than get blasted by the pass rush. Ryan won some very big games against some very good teams. His senior year was robbed by the coaches as they pushed him under the bus. Chryst won tiddlywink games--Ryan won the big games.

2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2016 at 3:07 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2017 at 10:05 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

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Posted by Fair Play
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 2, 2017 at 12:08 am

[Portion removed.]

As Stanford points out, the State of California requires a supermajority in civil suits, and unanimity in criminal suits.

Second, Stephen: Once someone labels their writing as satire, it's not a matter for libel. Libelous statements need to be presented as facts. Wha's satire, clumsy and badly written as it is, is clearly not presented as factual material. Now, we might need to be credulous indeed to believe that the coaches had no knowledge of the issues being adjudicated. But, absent overwhelming evidence, no student should be banned from a campus activity simply on an accusation. [Portion removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

Third, the thing I find most fascinating is that this article in the New York Times featured a case from 2015, with detailed information about the investigation and the decision making process. Two questions: How did the NYT reporters get detailed information about the Stanford legal process, which is supposed to be protected by privacy regulations? And, why did this article appear, not in 2015, not early in 2016, but near the END of 2016, just BEFORE Stanford was playing its Sun Bowl game, rather than earlier in the year? Maximum pressure, using one of Stanford's premier athletic programs? I'd say so!

Now, I'm not naive. There is history here, perhaps more at other universities, but also at Stanford. And there are many issues to be resolved. It does appear to me that Stanford is doing its best to develop a policy that protects everyone involved, and that this policy has been very successful.

But when I see what appears to be orchestrated campaigns to discredit Stanford and its efforts to be fair to everyone involved in these issues, I have to express my concern. The New York Times should know that a three-to-two majority is not always right. It should also be aware that issues should be aired when they happen, not held back for maximum political effect. But it's not just the New York Times. Articles in the Stanford Daily and the Palo Alto Weekly present a one-sided view of these issues, when it's clear that Stanford is bound by privacy regulations and cannot respond fully.

Yes, these are real issues. But there is also an overriding issue of fairness, justice, and the rule of law. Let's step back from this rush to unbalance the scales of justice and weigh how to resolve these problems with care, balance, and compassion for everyone involved.

1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 2, 2017 at 11:09 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by So Far, So Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2017 at 4:12 pm

It just goes to show that Stanford did not " need" Christian McCaffrey after all!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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