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November 29, 2009

Notebook: Fitting end to frustrating season for ASU

The conclusion to Saturday's game against Arizona can be described as ASU's season in a nutshell.

Heartbreaking losses have been an ongoing theme in the Sun Devils' season as three of their seven losses prior to Saturday's game came within one score.

Thanks to a muffed punt, another can be added to the list.

Riding a five game losing streak, a win against arch rival Arizona would have somewhat overshadowed a disappointing year in which the Sun Devils failed to reach a bowl game for the second straight season.

The Sun Devils covered 59 yards on the game's first two plays from scrimmage but came away empty that series due to a missed Thomas Weber field goal. They'd later find themselves down 14-0 at halftime with just 79 yards of total offense, as their subsequent 23 plays yielded just 20 yards net.

It seemed that the Wildcats would stroll out of Tempe with their second straight Territorial Cup win.

As the Sun Devils woke up in the second half, the mixed colors of the crowd dressed in their gold and red saw a two score lead turn into a tie ball game with a little over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Thanks in large part to senior wide receiver Kyle Williams, ASU saw itself in good position for a possible comeback upset.

However upon the games conclusion, Williams will be remembered both as ASU's hero at goat.

He ignited an offense that had struggled nearly all game as he helped set up the first score for the Sun Devils, returning a punt 53 yards inside Arizona territory.

He then went on to score the only two touchdowns for the team with a 44-yard touchdown catch and a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for Williams, his brilliant performance will likely forever be overshadowed by his rather costly mistake.

The ASU defense prevented the Wildcats from advancing the ball into field goal range with a little over one minute remaining and Arizona was forced to punt, giving ASU one final chance for a magical finish in regulation.

As the wobbly punt sailed in the air off the foot of Keenyn Crier, Williams waved for a fair catch, but fate or the wind took the ball away, as it bounced off of him and was recovered by the Wildcats, who were already in prime position for a game-winning field goal.

And that is just what they did.

The Wildcats went seven yards in four plays to give kicker Alex Zendejas, sporatic at best all season, a chance to quiet the home crowd.

Moments later after a perfect snap, hold and kick the Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 20-17 in a classic rivalry showdown.

"Basically sums up the season doesn't it?" quarterback Danny Sullivan said. "We have had so many games go the wrong way for us. To have it happen like that to a guy who has worked so hard this year to where he wants to be and where he has been. He made two big plays in the game for us and I feel so sorry for him that it had to happen in that way for this team."

Sullivan ends on high note

Coming into Saturday's game, Sullivan's career looked like it would conclude as a spectator. However that quickly changed upon his entrance to the game in the middle of the second quarter.

This season Sullivan has had a target on his back for his lack of performance, leading to his drop on the depth chart as he was relieved of his starting duties following the USC game.

In his first appearance since his disappointing efforts against the Trojans, Sullivan finally got his second chance as he took his first snap in a Territorial Cup with 7:21 remaining in the second quarter.

"[This game] meant everything," Sullivan said. "I had never taken a snap in this game my whole career until I got in today. I think that's probably why I was so devastated during the week because [I didn't think] I was going to get my chance. Finally I got in there and got the opportunity to make some plays."

Shaking off the cobwebs, Sullivan wasn't able to get much of an offensive push in the first half, finishing 4-of-7 passing for just 21 yards.

However the second half was a tale of two offenses.

The Sun Devils scored all 17 of their points in the second half as they almost tripled the total yardage gained in the first half. They finished with a total 303 yards of offense, with Sullivan finishing 14-for-28 with 168 yards and two touchdowns as he mounted an unbelievable comeback that fell just short.

Sullivan's most impressive throw of the night came late in the fourth quarter as the Sun Devils had little room for error.

After Dimitri Nance's four yard touchdown run was called back to a holding penalty, the Sun Devils were left with a 4th and 13 with 1:10 remaining in the game.

Evading a pass rush that accounted for five sacks on the night, Sullivan connected with Williams in the back of the end zone for a touchdown that set up a game tying extra point.

As he was able to squirm past the Wildcats' talented defensive line, Sullivan threw a perfect ball to his senior receiver as he too made a breathtaking grab.

"I was scrambling away from pressure," Sullivan said. "It was a play we drew up actually right before I walked out to the huddle and the players thought it was going to be one play and I changed it up on them. What do you know, it worked."

Through a season of ups and downs, Sullivan was applauded prior to kickoff as he was recognized in the Senior Day celebration, some positive reinforcement he wasn't too sure would happen.

"I didn't know what ovation I was going to get coming out," Sullivan said. "I may not have had a good season but from what I am told I am a good person and true Sun Devil."

Defense finishes strong

ASU's defense, the heart and soul of this year's team, did what it does best in Saturday's game against Arizona as it halted the high-powered Wildcat offense to just 10 points in the loss.

Prior to Saturday's game Arizona had been averaging 31.5 points per game.

Arizona was only able to score six points in the second half as it was held under 100 yards of total offense.

Quarterback Nick Foles passed for fewer than 150 yards for the second time as a starter and also was held without a touchdown pass.

One of the few mistakes the Sun Devil defense made was allowing sophomore running back Keola Antolin to burst through the line of scrimmage late in the first quarter as he ran 67 yards for a touchdown.

After that carry, Antolin gained a combined 11 yards.

"It is pretty hard to argue with their performance all year," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "We played well enough to beat anybody and today is a prime example of that against an awfully good offensive football team that had gone up and down the field against most teams in the country. [Arizona] was pretty stifled and that's what kept us in the game."

ASU finished tied for 13th nationally in total defense allowing just over 300 yards per contest.

Although they have substantial young talent, the defense will be losing a handful of leaders as they will see seniors Dexter Davis, Mike Nixon, Travis Goethel, Ryan McFoy, Jarrell Holman, Terell Carr and Pierre Singfield depart, all of whom started a majority of the team's games this season.


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