After 8 lead changes, ASU falls to WVU in Cactus Bowl

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                </div>  Arizona State football fans had to wait until Oregon and TCU finished their Alamo Bowl game, which went into triple overtime, before ESPN could switch over to the Sun […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Arizona State football fans had to wait until Oregon and TCU finished their Alamo Bowl game, which went into triple overtime, before ESPN could switch over to the Sun Devils’ match-up with West Virginia in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.

By the time fans were able to get a peek at the ASU game, there was just 4:46 left to play in the first quarter and the two teams had put up a combined nine points on the board.

For those just tuning in, this had all the appearance of a low-scoring, one-sided contest between a .500 team (6-6 ASU) and an opponent with seven wins…(yawn).

WVU had been dominating to that point, piling up 200 yards of offense and holding ASU to 14 yards.

But suddenly, as if the teams were waiting for the national audience to arrive, the game turned much more interesting – and explosive.  By the time halftime arrived, they had combined for over 600 yards of offense and 40 points, with the Mountaineers taking a 22-18 lead into the locker room.

And when the full 60 minutes had finally played out, that combined offensive output was almost 1,200 yards, with the Mountaineers holding the edge, 676-520.

The first quarter gave no hint as to what was coming the rest of the way.  The offensive fireworks were yet to come.

Five minutes into the second quarter, Devin Lucien gave the Sun Devils the lead with a 19-yard reception that made it 10-9.  The redshirt senior was having a big night; that reception gave him 90 yards – and the game was still a long way from intermission.  He finished the game with 144 yards on nine receptions, using key catches to fuel long ASU drives.

WVU regained the lead with an explosive pass play of 59 yards, pulled in by Shelton Gibson for the score to make it 16-10.  ASU answered with a field goal…and then it got a little wonky.  The teams scored three times in less than a minute, giving fans a sneak preview of what was to come in the third quarter.

With just 28 seconds left before the half ended, the Mountaineers scored again on a 10-yard TD pass.  But the point-after attempt was blocked and Tim White picked up the ball and carried it 90 yards to give the Sun Devils two more points.  On the following kick-off, senior quarterback Mike Bercovici directed a 49-yard drive that gave Zane Gonzalez a chance to make a 17-yard field goal that cut the WVU lead to 22-18 going into intermission.

At this point, West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard has already thrown for 334 yards and will continue to pick apart the Sun Devil defense, finishing with 532 passing yards on a 28-of-51 performance to set a new Cactus Bowl record.

In the second half, ASU caught up to the Mountaineers as the lead changed hands eight times during the game, including four times in a third quarter that exploded with 28 combined points, before WVU pulled out the 43-42 victory by taking the final lead with 2:19 to play.

ASU nearly snuffed the final threat by forcing a fumble with three minutes to go, but couldn’t cover the ball and re-take possession.  Instead, WVU converted a 3rd-and-long and two plays later scored the winning TD on a 15-yard pass to David Sills.

ASU made it to mid-field, needing another 15-20 yards to be able to take a shot at winning the game with a field goal, but ended up turning the ball over to WVU on downs with 1:26 left on the clock.  The Mountaineers ran out the remaining time to boost their season record to 8-6, while leaving ASU head coach Todd Graham with his first losing season in his four years in Tempe.

Statistically, this game couldn’t have been closer.  WVU had the ball for 29:02 and ASU’s time of possession was 30:58.  Each team got off 84 plays, with the Mountaineers converting 6-of-16 third-down opportunities and the Devils going 5-for-17.  WVU was just a tad bit more productive in the red zone, taking advantage of all six drives into the zone, while ASU was just as efficient, but with one fewer opportunity, going 5-for-5.

Bercovici finished out his college career by completing 29 of his 51 pass attempts for 418 yards and four TDs – a stat almost identical to that of WVU quarterback Howard.  There were no 100-yard rushers for either team; Demario Richard led ASU with 48 yards on 11 carries.  This was a game contested in the air.

There was one statistic that was particularly noteworthy on the ASU side.  When Gonzalez poked his third point-after through the bars in the third quarter the junior from Deer Park, TX, became Arizona State’s all-time leading scorer by setting a new school record of 382 career points.

This game didn’t end until well past midnight, as the last game of the 2015 bowl season played out, but few of the 39,321 fans who were in the stands at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix left early.

It turned out to be a long night for ASU fans – and a very disappointing ride home.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)