All season long, the Arizona State football team has been one of the best fourth-quarter teams in the country.
Saturday afternoon, that ability to dominate their opponents in the final 15 minutes paid off big-time for the Sun Devils as they used one of the most impressive rallies in program history to retain their hold on the Territorial Cup they won last year in Tempe.
Going into the rivalry game with the University of Arizona that marks the final game of the regular season, the Devils were holding opponents to an average of just 3.8 points in the fourth quarter — the sixth-lowest total among FBS teams. They had outscored opponents 99-42 in the final quarter and five times now have held them scoreless in the fourth.
ASU blanked the Wildcats in the fourth, while running up 20 unanswered points to come back from a 19-point deficit and post the 41-40 win in front of a crowd of 51,805 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson. It ranks fourth on the list of comebacks for the program in the last two decades, and is the largest fourth-quarter deficit to overcome in the fourth quarter during that time.
It’s the first time in six years that the home team has lost the rivalry game. And during that time, the winning team has scored at least 41 points. ASU just barely made the cut, and couldn’t have done it without a couple of field goals from Brandon Ruiz who contributed six of the 20 points in the fourth-quarter rally.
Arizona’s kicker, Josh Pollack, was 4-for-4 through the first three quarters, but missed the one that counted the most. With 17 seconds on the clock, the graduate student’s 45-yard shot went wide right of the uprights after the Cats had driven to the ASU 27-yard line before confronting a final fourth-down situation.
The Arizona loss meant no postseason bowl for the Cats this season. They finished with a 5-7 record overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12.
ASU, on the other hand, closed out with a 7-5 record (5-4 conference) and will await an invitation to perhaps a mid-tier bowl. The Sun Devils should make an interesting choice for some bowl committee since their overall body of work this season has been pretty solid. All five of ASU’s losses have been decided by a touchdown or less. They were within reach of a 10-win season.
Arizona held ASU’s senior running back Eno Benjamin, who was averaging 131 yards rushing per game coming into the contest, to just 80 yards. But his three touchdowns were critical to ASU’s success and he capped off the day’s performance with a 22-yard scoring run with 3:08 left that gave the Sun Devils the final margin of victory.
Benjamin was named the Bob Moran Most Outstanding Player after the game. The senior now needs just 42 yards in the bowl game to set the school’s all-time, single-season rushing record. He has 1,524 yards so far this season.
ASU senior quarterback Manny Wilkins was 18-of-31 for 265 yards and added 57 total rushing yards in his final regular-season game as a Sun Devil. And Brandon Aiyuk racked up 106 yards receiving on five catches, providing the Devils’ first TD of the game on a 58-yard pass from Wilkins.
The team’s leading receiver, N’Keal Harry, finished with 55 yards and announced this morning that he will forego his senior year to enter the next NFL draft. The junior from nearby Chandler High School needs 105 yards to take over second place on the all-time list at ASU. He currently has 2,889 receiving yards over his career.
Harry and Benjamin, both moving up in the school record books, have more than the usual motivation for performing well in the bowl game. Both want to leave high-water marks in the record books.
And that’s good news for ASU fans hungry for a bowl win in Coach Herm Edwards’ debut season.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)