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Arizona's inability to convert in the redzone plagued them once again. Arizona committed two-turnovers, a turnover on downs and missed a chip shot field goal inside the 25-yard line. They never recovered from the momentum swings.
"We could have done better things," said running back Mike Bell. "We could have executed better. We struggled. We were making dumb mistakes near the goal line. It's kind of frustrating." "We didn't convert scoring opportunities," said UA coach Mike Hankwitz. "We had an interception, a fumble and hit the upright. In a game like that any one of those makes it a different game."
Big pass plays have broken games open all season, and this game was no different. Following a missed 24-yard field goal, ASU went deep and Derek Hagan scored on an 80-yard pass play. It was the sixth pass play of the season of more than 50 yards and the fourth of 80 yards or more.
"You have to give credit to Arizona state," said Hankwitz. "The key was that we gave up some big plays on defense."
All season long the Wildcats have had trouble keeping players on the roster. Suspensions and academic casualties have depleted the roster and the Wildcats suffered another hit when Biren Ealy was held out of the game for unspecified team violations. His suspension, along with an injury to Lance Relford, meant the Cats had to go with little used players like Mike Jefferson, Syndric Steptoe, walk-on Ryan Eidson and even third-string quarterback Ryan O'Hara had reps at wide receiver.
Jefferson had the best game of his short career with nine catches for 115 yards and a score, but dropped a couple of key passes. Overall, it could serve as a breakout game for the young receiver who was lost in the shuffle for much of the season.
"He knew he had to step up because we lost some guys," said quarterback Kris Heavner.
It wasn't all gloom and doom, as there were some bright spots for the Wildcats.
Other than an interception in the endzone, Heavner was superb. The true freshman was 21-32 for 252 yards. He did a fantastic job avoiding the sack. With a lack of available running backs, Heavner was also effective on the ground, rushing for 23 yards.
Bell, who has been an emerging star since mid-year, failed to reach 1,000 yards, but put together a solid game. He had 95 yards rushing, finishing the season with 920 yards.
ASU was able to establish the run and that was key. The Sun Devils rushed for 203 yards. Co-MVP Loren Wade gained 120, averaging 6.7 yards a rush. The ASU offensive line manhandled the Wildcats most of the day.
"They really didn't stop us," said ASU coach Dirk Koetter. "We stopped ourselves."
The Sun Devils had no trouble marching down the field on their first possession. They were nearly perfect on both the run and pass and easily traveled 80 yards in just seven plays. Walter was 3-3 on the drive and capped it with a 27-yard strike to Skyler Fulton. Walter stepped up in the pocket and threaded a pass to Fulton in the corner of the endzone.
Arizona's first drive was not a thing of precision. Confusion due to inexperienced personnel led to an early time out and two-straight penalties for not having enough men on the line of scrimmage. Despite the miscues, the Wildcats were efficient on third down, converting four times during the drive. The Cats took 7:19 off the clock, due in large part to four penalties on the two teams. Heavner was the story, getting it done on the ground and in the air. He accounted for 92 yards of total offense on the series and threw a perfect pass to Mike Jefferson for the game-tying 16-yard score.
Turnovers were the story for the better part of a quarter. The Sun Devils fumbled twice, including once at their own 45-yard line. The Wildcats could not take advantage, as RJ Oliver intercepted a Heavner pass in the endzone.
The Wildcats could not convert on the second fumble either, but things appeared to go in Arizona's favor when a short Danny Baugher punt took a good bounce and rolled inside the five. Despite having a lot of green in front of them, the Sun Devils remained undaunted. ASU's offensive line manhandled the Wildcat defensive front and the Devil running game moved at will. The Sun Devils cranked out a 12-play, 96-yard drive, thanks in large part to 38-yards rushing from running back Randy Hill. The Sun Devils took the lead when Walter found tight end Jamaal Lewis, who had slipped behind the Wildcat defense and was wide open in the back of the endzone.
ASU added to the lead before the half. ASU took over near mid-field with just under 2:00 to play in the half. Facing third and two, Wade took the hand-off and after breaking a pair of arm tackles, sprinted 40-yards for the score. Wildcat defenders were close to the line to stuff the run, and after the initial hits, there was no one left to stop the freshman runner.
The death knell came early in the fourth quarter. Arizona drove inside the five but were forced to settle for a short field goal attempt. Nick Folk hit the right upright and ASU took over at the 20. It took them exactly one play to pad the lead. Arizona blew the coverage and Walter found Hagan on the left sideline all alone. Hagan out-raced a flock of Wildcats for the 80-yard score and the 28-7 lead.
It marks an end to a crazy season for the Wildcats. Arizona falls to 2-10, the first 10 loss season in school history. It was also a season that saw the firing of John Mackovic, multiple academic and behavioral suspensions and a rash of key injuries.
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