Sun Devils grind out overtime victory

There aren’t a whole lot of defensive, grind it out games at Sun Devil Stadium these days, but Arizona State found itself in one against Utah on Saturday night. And similar to last year’s game in Salt Lake, the Sun Devils found a way to come back from a fourth quarter deficit and defeat the Utes in dramatic fashion.

Lining up from 36 yards out with a chance to win in overtime, sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez split the uprights for Arizona State’s fourth win in a row and a spot at the top of the Pac-12 South.

“I was just ready and excited for the opportunity,” Gonzalez said after the game. “I told TK earlier, ‘give me another chance.’ He set me up and I just did what I had to do.”

On a night where the offense struggled to finish off drives, Gonzalez stepped up; connecting on four of his five tries.

“He’s the best kicker in the country,” safety Jordan Simone said. “We believe that and he believes that and he proved it tonight. That’s a lot of pressure on a kicker and it just tells you about the preparation that these special teamers do every day. It paid off today.”

With the win, Arizona State (7-1, 5-1) separated itself from the rest of the Pac-12 South and has sole possession of first place, controlling its own destiny heading forward. Utah (6-2, 3-2) falls all the way back to fifth in the division.

Despite the trials of the offense, the Sun Devils took a 13-6 lead into halftime.

Gonzalez got the scoring started in the first quarter with two field goals, and Utah cut the lead to three when kicker Andy Phillips connected on a 50-yard try.

On the ensuing drive, Taylor Kelly led Arizona State 75 yards in five plays, capped with a six-yard touchdown pass to take the 13-3 lead. The drive was really the only one where the Devils offense looked in unison. Whenever a drive looked to be promising, a penalty would cut it short and the punt team would be called on.

Kelly finished the night with just 18 completions on 32 attempts for 205 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Utah defense, averaging five sacks a game, got to Kelly four times and pressured him all night.

“We just kept hurting ourselves,” Kelly said, “whether it was penalties, misreads, sacks and those types of things. Utah is a great defense and you can’t do that to yourself or put yourself in that position.”

ASU found success on the ground, rushing for 239 yards on 43 carries; easily the most Utah has given up in a single game this season. Freshman running back Demario Richard is earning more and more carries as the season goes along, gaining 116 yards on just 14 carries.

The ASU defense continued its improvement with another solid performance, holding Utah to just one touchdown. The Sun Devils made Utah one-dimensional, holding Utes starting quarterback Travis Wilson to just 57 yards passing.

“We pride ourselves as the bird gang to lock down each and every game,” cornerback Lloyd Carrington said. “Really it’s just a mentality we take into each game. We go out there and try to dominate and make sure they don’t get too much in the passing game.”

Added Damarious Randall: “It started up front with guys like Marcus Hardison and Jaxon Hood getting pressure up on the quarterback. They make our job a lot easier back there. I think that we just have a swagger about ourselves. Once that swagger was established we are just swarming ball carriers because everybody trusts each other.”

Utah had a game plan and stuck to it for most of the night – hand it off to Devontae Booker. Booker carried the ball 37 times for 146 yards, often dragging Devils along with him. On the whole, Utah ran the ball 52 times on the Devils for a net total of 184 yards.

“He runs hard, man,” Simone said of Booker. “I said it earlier in the week that he’s just another good back in the Pac-12 that we have to stop.”

Utah came out and tied the game up on the first drive of the second half, going 75 yards in 10 plays. Wilson, who had a huge 32-yard rush on the drive, checked down to Devontae Booker from four yards out and the running back leaped into the end zone.

The Utes took control of the game on their next drive when Phillips nailed a 44-yard field goal.

Arizona State had a shot to take the lead back late in the fourth, as it drove all the way down into Utah’s red zone. On third and seven, Taylor Kelly dropped back and threw the ball straight into the hands of a Utah defender, but luckily it fell to the ground. Gonzalez was true yet again, this time from 30 yards to tie it up.

With six seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Devils had the ball on their own 40-yard line. Mike Bercovici was brought in for a little late-game Hail Mary magic, but his pass was intercepted and the game was sent into overtime.

Phillips pulled his 35-yard attempt wide left on the first drive of overtime, setting up the game winner for Gonzalez.

ASU welcomes Notre Dame to Tempe next week for a non-conference battle between two 7-1 teams.

“We control our own destiny, and that’s what we want – we want to be in the driver’s seat,” Kelly said. “We have to put this one behind us and start preparing for Notre Dame, it’s a big game.”

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