THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Sunday 25 November 2012
Last update 25 November 2012 6:02 am
TUCSON, Arizona: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott has taken a beating this season and usually found a way to rally his team.
Against Arizona State, the Wildcats’ biggest rival, he couldn’t bring the Wildcats all the way back.
Scott threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions and a key fumble in Arizona’s 41-34 loss to Arizona State Friday night.
“We had some tough losses, but our team never gave up, even in blowouts,” Arizona running back Daniel Jenkins said. “Matt is a great quarterback, and I told him not to hang his head. At the end of the day, he’s a great quarterback.” Trailing by eight at halftime, Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) scored 18 points the third quarter after Scott hit Aaron Hill on a 22-yard touchdown and Garic Wharton on a 40-yarder, and John Bonano kicked a 23-yard field goal.
The Wildcats just couldn’t hold on.
Arizona gave up the blocked punt, Scott had an interception and a fumble, and Arizona State scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.
Ka’Deem Carey ran for 172 yards and a touchdown to lead Arizona.
“I’m disappointed we lost,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I love our kids and I’m really proud of our seniors, but I’m disappointed we lost. The kids are, too, I’m sure. Our guys competed hard.” Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) stormed back after trailing 27-17 in the third quarter.
Jon Mora got the rally started with a field goal. Marion Grice, who ran for 156 yards, scored his third touchdown on a 4-yard run to tie the game after Keelan Johnson forced Arizona quarterback Matt Scott to fumble.
Kevin Ayers blocked a punt to set up Cameron Marshall for an 8-yard touchdown to give Arizona State the lead. Robert Nelson then returned an interception 66 yards before Michael Eubank’s 1-yard touchdown made it 41-27.
Even after Scott hit David Richards on a 17-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes to cut the lead to seven, the Sun Devils didn’t let Arizona come up with the onside kick and ran out the clock.
The memorable victory ensured Arizona State’s first winning season since 2007 and gave coach Todd Graham a leg up on Rodriguez in the 85-game series’ first game between new coaches since Arizona’s John Mackovic beat ASU’s Dirk Koetter in 2001.
“We were down by 10, we kept battling, kept making plays, forced a couple of turnovers; then what? We won the game,” said Arizona State senior linebacker Brandon Magee, who had 17 tackles. “It happened just like that.” A heated rivalry to begin with, the Territorial Cup took on added meaning this season with new coaches trying to get a head start on each other.
After an unsuccessful stint at Michigan, Rodriguez brought gas-it-all-the-time offense to the desert, hoping to turn around a program that had fallen off hard the previous couple of seasons.
Even without much depth on his roster, Rodriguez’s debut has been a success: Seven wins, two over Top 25 teams, and bowl eligibility in his first season.
Just 90 minutes up Interstate 10 in Tempe, Graham put his mark on the Sun Devils with his no-nonsense approach and high-octane offense. Arizona State got off to a great start, winning five of its first six games, then rallied from a four-game losing streak to become bowl eligible by beating Washington State last weekend.
For all they accomplished, Friday night’s game was the biggest of the season. Bragging rights, an advantage in recruiting, a boost for fans and alumni — plenty was riding on this game.
“This game was everything,” Graham said.
It took a while to get going.
The only player on either team to get much going early, Carey passed Trung Canidate’s single-season school record of 1,602 yards rushing, set in 1999, on Arizona’s second drive, then launched himself over Arizona State safety Alden Darby for a 1-yard touchdown run to cap it.
Bogged down early, Arizona State got going by picking off two of Scott’s passes. Grice followed both with touchdowns: a nifty 52-yard run and a score from 3 yards out to help the Sun Devils to a 14-9 halftime lead.
After that came the fireworks, the rivals trading big swings of momentum by combining for 52 points, 502 yards of offense and disparate emotions from teams that wanted this game more than any other this season.
“This was a high-energy game, and I didn’t expect it to be any different,” Arizona nose guard Tevin Hood said. “There were a lot of momentum shifts, and that really played a big part of the game.” The Sun Devils got the biggest shift, in the game and for the rivalry’s two new coaches.