Sun Devils beat Irish on the big stage

It was a roller coaster of emotions for the Arizona State faithful on Saturday, but the Devils eventually pulled out the win over Notre Dame in front of 65,870 raucous fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

In a game with plenty of hype leading up to kickoff, No. 9 Arizona State bent, didn’t break, and turned it on in the final minutes of the game to win 55-31 over No. 10 Notre Dame.

The last time ASU beat a top-ten opponent was all the way back in 2002, when the Devils went into Eugene and edged out No. 6 Oregon 45-42.

“It’s huge getting a win on the national stage; that’s big time for this program and where it is headed,” quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “Guys are doing a tremendous job getting better each week in practice, trusting the coaches, watching film and making the sacrifices. We came together as a family tonight even more.”

Added D.J. Foster: “I think that we knew that this was the hump that we needed to get over to make our name nationally. We knew that we needed to get this win to impress some people.”

The Sun Devils (8-1, 5-1) took a 24-point lead into half, only to see Notre Dame (7-2) charge back and get it to a three-point ball game with just under seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

With all of the momentum on the Irish’s sideline, Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devil offense drove 75 yards in five plays, scoring on a rollout pass from Kelly to freshman Demario Richard to extend the lead back to 10.

“Our captains on offense just kept on talking, saying we needed to have our defense’s back,” ASU running back D.J. Foster said. “As you can see the defense battled the entire game so we needed to have their back and show up for them. We kept talking, ‘We have got to put together a drive, this is it,’ and we did.”

The Devils dominated the remaining four minutes, scoring two more times – the first coming on an electrifying 58-yard pick-six from Lloyd Carrington, and the second on a fourth down Kelly bootleg from two yards out.

“Nobody flinched,” Kelly said. “Our defense had our back and we had theirs. Our coaches just kept telling us to trust our eyes, and trust the fundamentals and our leaders stepped up and we made some big plays when we needed to.”

The story of the first half – and the game as a whole – was the ability of the ASU defense to generate turnovers, and force Notre Dame signal caller Everett Golson into mistakes. Golson threw four interceptions, and had one fumble on the day. The ASU defense easily had its most impressive game of the year with seven sacks, pressuring Golson seemingly all afternoon long.

“We just knew that we had to get a lot of pressure against them because he is very mobile,” safety Damarious Randall said. “And we knew in his last five games that they’ve turned the ball over 12 times so we just wanted to take advantage of that.”

After the ASU offense turned a Marcus Hardison interception into points off a Richard one-yard touchdown run, the Sun Devil defense stepped up once again on the ensuing Notre Dame drive.

The Irish had driven into ASU territory, and on a second down play, Hardison reached up and tipped a pass from Golson, only to see it land into the waiting hands of Randall, who promptly took it the other way for six.

“We were in man-to-man coverage, and I was guarding the inside guy,” Randall said. “My guy went to run a slant but the ball was tipped and I just saw the ball up in the air and went up and got it, and touchdown.”

Down 34-10, Notre Dame wouldn’t go easy in the second half. The Irish were moving the ball with ease, and would’ve scored more than just seven in the third quarter had Golson not thrown an interception to corner Kweishi Brown in the red zone.

Yet, to start the second half, Notre Dame scored 21 unanswered points and pulled within three. ASU then matched that with a 21-point run of its own to close out the game.

In the fourth quarter alone, D.J. Foster had 50 yards of rushing on eight carries, and Richard spelled him with 16 yards on four to go along with his 44 yards receiving.

“He’s the yin to my yang,” Foster said of the 17-year-old Richard. “I’m proud of that kid. I’ve seen him grow so much since he’s gotten here. It’s unbelievable to see his growth and what he’s doing for this team.”

Richard has developed into the lead back when offensive coordinator Mike Norvell calls for Foster to line up as a receiver in the slot. With two touchdowns on the day, the freshman is proving his worth.

“He’s added a lot,” Kelly said. “With how deadly we are at receiver, and you add one more with D.J. out there with the speed. With (Richard) in the backfield, he’s just a little pinball and he keeps trusting his hole and runs super hard. You have to account for him, for D.J., Jaelen and all those playmakers.”

The Devils’ offense did what it needed to do on a day where the defense shined in order to secure the win. The victory is arguably one of the biggest at Sun Devil Stadium since the shutout of No. 1 Nebraska in 1996. ASU is earning the attention that is sure to come, and the players are relishing in it, even approaching things with a bit of swagger.

“I don’t think I would want to play ASU up in Tempe,” Randall said.

Added Foster: “All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together and it’s just a sight to see.”

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