"It's really sweet," senior safety Alden Darby mentioned of the win over UofA. "We are happy about it, it means a lot to us that we get to host the Pac-12 Championship. But we have to enjoy it tonight and then let it go because we still have to go out and win next week and then we will have a little bigger celebration."
In a night when the Sun Devil seniors were honored, plenty of veterans stepped up and made momentum-shifting plays, but the performance was bolstered by a trio of non-seniors: D.J. Foster, De'Marieya Nelson and Damarious Randall.
Despite senior running back Marion Grice being out with a leg injury, the Sun Devils didn't miss a beat on offense. Foster filled in and picked up right where Grice left off, gaining 124 yards on 23 carries with two scores. Foster and company put up a total of 478 yards of offense and accounted for 51 of the Devils' 58 points on the night.
"I had a lot of confidence in the guys that were going to fill in, step up and play that role," junior quarterback Taylor Kelly said of filling in for Grice. "D.J. Foster did a great job tonight. Some people forget how good of a player he is and how he runs the football."
Foster had communicated with Grice throughout the week in preparation for the increased work load, and knew that it was important for him to step in and keep the offense clicking as a unit against a Arizona defense that was coming off a victory over the then No. 5 ranked team in the Oregon Ducks the week prior.
"I knew that it was my turn and I didn't want my teammates to feel like anything was going to slack," Foster said. "I just tried to step up and my coaches and my teammates prepared me well for this week.
"I felt at home being back there. It was just getting my mindset out of the receiver stuff and getting myself in the playbook as a running back. But it felt good and comfortable to be back."
Coming into the season, De'Marieya Nelson was a player that head coach Todd Graham praised for his versatility and athleticism, and that was on display Saturday night as the tight end saw extended time in the backfield against the Wildcats.
The redshirt junior transfer from San Joaquin Delta College carried the ball eight times for 35 yards and two scores and also recorded a catch for 21 yards. Not to mention his special teams play where he recorded three tackles, a forced fumble and a recovery on the coverage unit.
"He's a tough runner," Foster said of Nelson. "He's versatile too, and can do a lot of things at the three-back position and tight end. Our coaches are starting to see what he can do. It's definitely good to have that weapon in the backfield."
The Wildcats certainly have a weapon in their backfield as well. In his press conference on Monday, Graham mentioned that Ka'Deem Carey would be the best running back that Arizona State would face all season. He lived up to that standard on Saturday night.
Carey rushed the ball 32 times for a net gain of 157 yards with a touchdown as well. But like the rest of their season, the only part of offense that UofA could really get going was the running game against the Devils. While quarterback B.J. Denker did run for 87 yards on the night, he only threw for 175, and turned the ball over three times, all on interceptions.
One of those picks proved to be the tilting point in the game. Down 16, Arizona was sustaining a solid drive on their second possession of the second half and driven driving down to ASU's 38. On a third-and-four, Denker dropped back to pass with three receivers to his left and telegraphed a pass straight into the hands of a breaking Damarious Randall, who took it 68 yards to pay dirt.
The play stopped any momentum that Arizona seemed to be gaining and thrust the Devils into the driver's seat for the rest of the game.
"Big time players make big time plays in big time moments," Irabor said of Randall's interception. "We've got a lot of confidence because we are prepared during the week and we know that if we just execute the game plan we will be fine. We believe in that and that's what you see on the field."
The Arizona State defense now has a turnover in 26 consecutive games, and all 25 under Graham.
"We understand that we have a lot of talent and we just feel like we match up well against anybody," Irabor said.
There was little room for elation after the win against Arizona. The players know how much this win means to the fan base, but their focus won't be strayed from the ultimate goal: getting to the Rose Bowl and winning it.
"It feels great," Irabor said of the win, "but like Darby said we understand that we haven't accomplished our goal yet. We are going to enjoy this for the night. Tomorrow we will watch the film and correct our mistakes and get ready for the biggest game of our careers and of the season."