ASU fought hard and played one of their best games of the season, but KSU pulled out a one TD victory at “the Q.” Most fans hate “moral victories,” but there was much for Sun Devil fans to be proud of going into the off-season.
The game started with ASU winning the toss and electing to receive the kick-off. Coach Dirk Koetter sent a message that he was not going to be intimidated by the nation’s top defense. KSU’s defense showed why it was the #1 squad during the first quarter, holding the Devils scoreless. However, the more interesting stat was that ASU’s defense, not expected to match the physical play of Kansas State, also held the Wildcats from Manhattan to zero points in the opening stanza.
In contrast, the second quarter would feature 34 points by the two teams. ASU struck first with a Walter to Taplin TD pass at the 11:36 mark. A fumble recovery allowed the Sun Devils to extend their lead to 10-0 with a Mike Barth FG with just over 9 minutes remaining in the half. The Wildcats did not waste any time answering, though. A 43 yard pass from Roberson to Newman was followed by a 41 yard jaunt into the end zone by Sproles. It was the Devils’ turn to answer, and they did with a Hakim Hill TD run to the right side with 3:00 minutes left before half time. However, the scoring was not done. Solomon Bates forced another KSU fumble and Barth put another three points on the board with 1:25 left in the half. The Wildcats’ QB Roberson quickly brought his team back with a 31 yard run with just under a minute remaining. At half, the scoreboard showed ASU 20, KSU 14.
The 3rd quarter was scoreless, but each team had its opportunities. A KSU receiver dropped a deep pass, which would have been a sure touchdown and ASU missed a 51 yard field goal attempt in the quarter. Neither team was able to put points on the board, though.
The fourth quarter decided the game. KSU started the scoring on a Roberson 3 yard TD run at the 12:16 mark; however, the Wildcats missed the PAT, leaving the score tied at 20. Under two minutes later, the Sun Devils responded on a Mike Williams screen pass with 10:30 remaining in the game. On KSU’s next drive, the play that made the difference in the game occurred. After Bates sniffed out a KSU inside receiver screen on 3rd down, leaving the Wildcats in a 4th and 10 situation on the 22 yard line, Coach Bill Snyder decided to go for it. On the fourth down play, ASU’s Matt Fawley pressured Roberson into throwing a jump ball toward the sideline in front of ASU’s end zone. Freshman corner Josh Golden could not keep up with the Wildcat receiver and he caught the ball at the Sun Devils’ three yard line. Roberson went in for his second three yard TD run of the night, evening the score at 27 each with 6:41 left to play. ASU was not able to respond by putting any points on the board, and KSU was able to drive down the field and score with just 1:39 remaining. The sun Devils got as far as the KSU 46 yard line, but their Hail Mary pass on 4th down was knocked down as time expired.
Kansas State’s three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference. Ell Roberson performed very well under pressure in the final quarter and actually beat the Devils through the air on some occasions.
Overall, the game was easily the best bowl game played so far and each team “left it all out on the field.” Unfortunately for our Devils, they ended up on the losing end at the 2002 Holiday Bowl. Even if you do not like “moral victories,” the effort and execution showed by the Sun Devils has to make you proud. The 2003 season looks very promising.
ASU once again used the 4-3 defensive alignment to slow down a strong rushing attack…Senior LB Mason Unck tallied 15 tackles – 12 solo and 3 for loss…Senior Solomon Bates also had a strong game and showed that he can really contribute as a MLB…Andrew Walter only threw one interception, and that was on a play in which WR Skyler Fulton hurt himself and could not battle the DB for the ball…The ESPN Game Day crew gave ASU some very good publicity, although Trev Alberts and his buddies showed us no love…lots of gamblers lost money tonight.