Inspired Longino play at less than full strength keys ASU defense

Todd Graham didn't think Antonio Longino would be able to play against Washington on Saturday, but the senior Devil backer may have had ASU's best defensive performance in a 27-17 win.

Hard-hitting Arizona State senior linebacker Antonio Longino has developed a habit for bending opponents into submission. 

But Saturday against Washington, he twisted Todd Graham’s arm until Sun Devils’ head coach relented. 

Calling Longino a limited participant in ASU practices this week would be very generous. Yet there he was in the second half of the Sun Devils' Homecoming come-from-behind 27-17 win over Washington Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium making some of the most important plays of the game. 

“He was probably about 85 (percent),” Graham said. “So it was just one, I just said, ‘what do you think?’ And he said, ‘well, what do you mean what am I thinking?’ He said, ‘I'm going to play.’ And I said okay.”

Redshirt freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson started ahead of Longino, who has battled hamstring and arm injuries in recent weeks, but Longino came off the bench in the first quarter, played most of the game and proved essential in the ASU win. 

“Just the way he inspired his teammates and the way he played and, I mean, I was inspired,” Graham said. “Usually I'm doing my job but I was sitting there at halftime and I even pointed him out and I said ‘man, it means something to him.’

“Just heart. Just heart. He had tears in his eyes, in the first half he did. He was bringing it. I mean he was inspiring his teammates and it wasn't going very well.”

Graham said Longino’s determination had the same impact on him as former two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton’s performance in a win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl several years ago. 

“Tony Longino inspired me in the same way,” Graham said. “He should not even have played. As a matter of fact, I don't let you play if you don't practice. He took four reps (all week). He took four reps on Thursday. And in no way did he need to play, in my opinion. And he let me know that that wasn't going to be my decision.”

Doctors had cleared Longino to play but Graham said as late as following the team’s last practice of the week on Thursday that he didn’t think he would be able to. 

Seven tackles, four of which were for loss and two sacks later, Longino proved he wasn’t going to be denied. 

My team needs me to pick them up on and off the field so that’s what I came out there to do,” Longino said. “That’s my last two or three games out there so I’m not passing them up, I’m going to give what I got.”

Longino’s first sack of the game came with ASU trailing 17-10 and Washington facing a third and seven with just over a minute left in the third quarter. It turned what would have been a 36 yard field goal into a 45 yard attempt, which the Huskies missed. 

At that point, ASU’s players were more energized than they’d been in the entire game to that point when coming off the field. The Sun Devils followed with their best drive of a game, a seven-play, 71 yard drive that took just 1:57 and knotted the score at 17-17. 

Washington then went three-and-out on its next drive and ASU put back-to-back possessions in which it got points, taking a 20-17 lead with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter. 

The Huskies then had their final four drives end in turnover including three interceptions thrown by freshman quarterback Jake Browning. 

Longino mixed in another sack for good measure. 

“Tony is a guy that needs to be pointed out, man, I mean it was phenomenal how he was leading," Graham said. "It was impressive.

“And then -- no, I mean, it wasn't -- I mean this young man has accomplished a lot and sacrificed a lot and there's only two more times, this one and then next week, that's it. He ain't never going to play in this stadium again."

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