Sun Devils Survive Frenetic Finish

Sun Devils Survive Frenetic Finish

Just when it seemed like Arizona State was on the verge of letting another opportunity to claim its first signature victory in the Todd Graham Era slip away, the unthinkable happen. The end result was a 32-30 ASU victory.

Trailing by two with 18 seconds to play, Wisconsin found itself at the Arizona State 13 yard line after driving 70 yards in just over a minute to set up a potential game-winning field. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Joel Stave took the snap and charged to the middle of the field before appearing to take a knee. He placed the ball on the ground, and that's when the confusion began.

Arizona State players dove on the ball. The referee whistled the play dead. But the clock continued to run.

"He should have spiked the ball because they didn't have any timeouts, but he took a knee and placed the ball down," said Arizona State cornerback Osahon Irabor afterwards. "They tried to explain to him that 'You took a knee and the clock's running and there's no timeouts,' and he's trying to say. 'No, I did this, I did that.'"

Without any remaining timeouts to stop the clock, time expired on the Badgers and Arizona State escaped with its second win over a ranked opponent under Graham, 32-30.

Sun Devil players stormed the field, students and fans cheered maniacally, and in the end, the victory bell was rung. In a game where ASU seemingly outplayed their opponent yet trailed for most of the game, the Sun Devils knocked off a ranked opponent while improving to 2-0 in front 66,155 equally confused and relieved fans.

"I've never seen anything like that in college football or ever played in a game like that, so luck was on our side," remarked Irabor. "I'll take it. We'll take it any way we can get it; sloppy, ugly, beautiful, it doesn't matter. A win's a win. We're 2-0 and going to the next one."

While quarterback Taylor Kelly struggled to find his normal rhythm for most of the first half, Marion Grice helped pace the Sun Devil scoring attack.

The senior rushed for 88 yards on 22 carries, while hauling in five catches for another 50 yards in the win. He rushed for four touchdowns on the night, becoming the first Sun Devil to rush for four scores since Mike Williams in 2002.

With his four touchdowns on Saturday, Grice has now totaled 12 touchdowns in the team's last five games, and 25 total touchdowns in 14 career games for the Sun Devils. "They were getting tired up front," said Kelly on Grice's two fourth quarter touchdowns to propel the Sun Devils ahead late. "We were switching it up and kept pounding it down their throat."

The Sun Devils began the night by driving 72 yards on 13 plays before being turned away by the Badgers on a 4th & 2 attempt at the Wisconsin three yard line when Kelly missed an open Kevin Ozier in the endzone.

The Arizona State defense overwhelmed the Wisconsin on its first two possessions of the game, limiting the Badgers to minus two yards of offense as the Sun Devils jumped ahead on a Zane Gonzalez 34 yard field goal.

"I think we did a good job, especially in the first half we were pretty much stoning them," said Irabor. "We've got to do a better job of communicating as a defense. That usually happens early in the season when guys are still trying to figure everything out."

However, the Badgers stormed back in the second quarter, where after a two yard touchdown pass from Stave to Jacob Pedersen, the Sun Devils botched a Dom Vizzare punt attempt that resulted in another Wisconsin touchdown, giving the visitors a one point advantage heading into halftime.

Wisconsin was led by running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 196 yards on only 15 carries, including an 80 yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half.

"We like to say that they have coaches too and they're on scholarship as well, so they're going to get their fair share of plays," said Irabor. "I definitely think some of that was us miscommunicating; guys not fitting it right like we did in practice and I just think we need to do a better job of communicating as a defense."

"Coach Graham is a genius. He does a great job of scouting our opponent and we just work on executing our game plan. I think, everything we saw today we expected, so we definitely didn't execute everything that we practiced today and that's key to keeping this thing rolling on."

But that's when the Arizona State offense, led by Kelly and Grice, came back to life. The Sun Devils drove 91 yards on 11 plays, resulting in a Grice one yard scoring run to bring ASU back within two.

Kelly completed 29-51 passes for 352 yards and one interception. Kelly's third quarter interception snapped a string of 118 pass attempts without an interception for the sophomore.

Jaelen Strong, who had six catches in his Sun Devil debut last week against Sacramento State, caught six more passes for 104 yards in the win. Sophomore D.J. Foster led all players with seven catches on the night.

"I thought we played well," said Kelly. "We made some critical errors. At halftime, we made some adjustments and started attacking the run. Marion did a great job tonight."

Wisconsin would add one more field goal before the Sun Devils eventually surged ahead on the first of Grice's two fourth quarter touchdowns and held on during the games final chaotic moments.

With the win, the Sun Devils improved to 9-0 all-time against Big Ten opponents at Sun Devil Stadium and 3-1 against Wisconsin.

"I think it's huge for us as a program to show that we're here to play with the big boys, that we're ready for any challenge, and that we're going to rise to any occasion that comes in front of us," commented Irabor. "It was a huge performance by our front seven. I think our defensive line and our line backers did a great job."

"They're a great team, of course," added safety Alden Darby. "Big Ten champions and they went to the Rose Bowl. For a win like that, it's a great win for the university, for the city, for the fans and for our football team."

For seniors like Irabor and Darby, Saturday's dramatic come-from-behind win helps ease the pain from Arizona State's heartbreaking loss to the Badgers in Madison in 2010.

"I remember that game like it was yesterday," recalled Irabor. "We should've won that game, but didn't. It's senior year – a new program, a new attitude to stick together as a team. There was no quit on either sides of the ball. I'm just really proud of my guys, and proud of the way we kept battling until the last second and just kept fighting."

"It starts with the leadership," added Darby. "I've never played on a team in my life that has so much leadership. The seniors, the underclassmen. We all believe in each other and think we can get it done. When adversity struck, we were prepared for that. We practiced situations like that. We just all pulled together. Nobody had their head held down. We were down and we still expected to win."

Now, the Sun Devils will turn their attention towards preparing for their first conference game of the season as they get set to travel to Stanford next Saturday. The goal for the Sun Devils in 2013 is a conference championship, and while they passed their first test on Saturday by defeating Wisconsin, the players remain aware that they'll need to continue to improve if they hope to win on the road against last season's Pac-12 champion.

"You never like to look ahead, but we know what's ahead on our schedule," said Irabor. "We know what's coming up next week – the Pac-12 champions. We definitely have to play better if we want to win that game. We have to watch the film tomorrow, put this game behind us, get ready for the next opponent, and just focus on ourselves and get better as a team."

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