Turnovers Doom Devils in Rivalry Game

Tucson, Ariz. - The day after Thanksgiving is known as the biggest Christmas shopping day of the year. Not to take anything from Arizona's 34-27 win today, but Arizona State gift-wrapped this victory with a handful of turnovers, some them halting crucial drives in the red zone.

The writing may have been on the wall starting in the visitors' first possession. A 22-yard run by Hakim Hill put his team at the Wildcats' 4-yard line. However, the Devils are unable to punch it in, and settle for a Jesse Ainsworth 21-yard field goal. Arizona answers on its next possession when Nick Folk drills a career high 53 yarder to tie the game at 3-3 at the 5:27 mark of the first quarter. Following a failed forth down try deep in the home team's territory, Josh Barrett, who started the opening stanza instead of the suspended Riccardo Stewart, intercepted a Richard Kovlacheck pass. Even though he fumbled the pigskin on his return, teammate Chris McKenzie was able to fall on the ball and put ASU on Arizona's 7-yard line. A six-yard scamper by Hill is followed by a 1-yard score to end the first quarter with an ASU 10-3 lead.

One of two fumbles by Hill gives the Cats the ball, and 54-yard touchdown catch by Steve Fleming ties the game once again at 10-10. Andrew Walter has a fumble of his own on the ensuing possession, and Folk converts a 23-yard attempt to give the home team a 13-10 lead with 6:14 left in the half. A Jordan Hill sack of Kovlacheck caused a fumble, which was returned by Jimmy Verdon 24 yards for a score. ASU's 17-13 lead would be their last of the game. Following a blocked 44-yard field goal attempt by Ainsworth, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, followed by a pass interference infraction in the end zone, allows Mike Jefferson to score on a two-yard catch to send both team's to the locker room with a 20-17 Arizona lead.

The Sun Devil defense was able to stop the Wildcats on their first possession of the second half, but Hill gives back the ball on his second fumble, which rolls into the end zone for a touchback. A 57-yard rush by Mike Bell on the next possession sets up a Gilbert Harris 6-yard dash for a score. ASU began the fourth quarter at Arizona's 13-yard line, but once again can only muster a field goal to cut the margin to 27-20. Matt Miller fumbles Walter's pass, and one play later the Cats capitalize once again on a visitor's mishap as Mike Jefferson scores on a 47-yard catch. With 7:30 remaining the game, Walter leaves the game with a separated shoulder injury, but backup Sam Keller completes his first five passes, the last one being to Jamaal Lewis for a two yard score, and ultimately the last one of the contest. Matt Miller continues his afternoon of misery dropping a fourth down pass to seal the deal with 1:21 left in the game, and sends the home crowd into frenzy.

Walter completed 23-38 passes for 320 yards and an interception. Keller was 8-14 for 94 yards and had the team's lone touchdown pass. Hakim Hill carried the ball 19 times for 85 yards, but his two fumbles probably stick out as his main statistic. Derek Hagan led all receivers with 110 yards on seven catches, while Zach Miller and Moey Mutz had 76 yards apiece on eight and four catches respectively. Emmanuel Franklin led all ASU tacklers with eight.

"Five turnovers – not gonna beat anybody," said coach Dirk Koetter following the game. "When you turn the ball over it puts your defense on a short field. Especially early in the game their points were a direct result of turnovers. Two of our turnovers were in our scoring zone, which takes points from us."

"We've been great in the red zone all year," Koetter continued. "We were doing a great job taking care of the ball all year. Very few teams are talented enough to lay it on the ground in the red zone and win. We almost able to overcome it, but almost doesn't count. Arizona made the plays and we didn't."

The Sun Devil skipper was encouraged by Sam Keller's performance late in the fourth quarter. "We have confidence in Sam all along. We know what he can do. That was a lot of pressure for Sam to go in, but I thought he did a nice job." The sophomore was also pleased with his own performance. "Every week the entire season my goal has been the same thing," said Keller. "If something horrible were to happen, like it did today, and for the best of the team to not let the offense skip a beat because I'm in there. I pride myself doing well in practice, and knowing the game plan just as good as Andrew (Walter). When I'm thrown in a situation like this, I expect to perform, which I didn't do last year."

Keller added that a backup quarterback can't think too much about the situation that he's thrown into, as tough as it may be. "If you think – you're dead. I just try to go out there and rely on my abilities and what I do in practice…we moved the ball when I was in, which is good. But I feel bad for the team right now. We'll see how I did later."

If there's any silver lining in this loss, it's the fact that it did very little, if any at all, to hurt the Sun Devils' chances at a Holiday Bowl appearance. Texas' win over Texas A&M was probably the best news the maroon and gold faithful received all day. USC and Cal winning out will likely send Dirk Koetter's team back to Qualcom stadium in San Diego after only two years. True, this loss in Tucson does hurt, and will linger for probably a week or so. However, an 8-3 regular season record is a pleasant surprise in a 2004 season, which started with much more doubt than hope.

Sparky's Sundries WARNING: you're about to enter the bitter loser edition of Sparky's Sundries…what a good time for a head cold, as I spend half a day in brown town…With only two home wins this season, it takes a lot of guts from Arizona to show the total offense yards for both teams on the video screen at all times…One of the only times ASU fans got a chuckle today, is when Richard Kovlacheck called a time out when he had none. Shades of Chris Webber and Michigan…Big E had a nice assortment of FSN (Fox Sports Network) plaques. My favorite is
No better than Mackovic. And even after today's loss that still is true…Classy move by the Wildcats to honor Pat Tillman before the game…Violation of team rules caused Riccardo Stewart and Justin Burks to sit out the first quarter, while Dale Robinson sat out the second. In fact, the first time the starting defense was on the field was at the begining of the second half…with his 320 yards passing Andrew Walter now holds the three highest single season passing yards ASU records…Derek Hagan 110 yards receiving ties him with Eric Guilford for the most career 100-yard receiving games (13), while giving the junior the record for most 100-yard receiving games in a season (7)…with 51 catches, Zach Miller trails only Todd Heap for most catches by a tight end in a single season…Senior Jimmy Verdon's 24-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown was his first ever score…Robert James recorded his first ever sack, which actually came on two separate collaborations with Jamar Williams…East Valley Tribune Bob Moran, who's recovering from stomach cancer surgery, missed his first ASU-Arizona game since 1974.

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