LSU rallies for improbable 35-31 win

TEMPE, Ariz. - With life back home far from ordinary thanks to Hurricane Katrina, the LSU Tigers returned to action in a game that proved to be far from ordinary in its own right.

Quarterback JaMarcus Russell's 39-yard touchdown pass to Early Doucet with 1:13 to play propelled the Tigers to a 35-31 victory over 15th-ranked Arizona State Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, as they moved to 1-0 in the 2005 season.

 

With nine yards to go on 4th down, smash-wide snake was the call. Russell rolled right and back left, launching a pass to Doucet, with the hopes of the Tiger faithful, as well as the collective breath of a crowd of 63,210 riding on the outcome.  Doucet leapt toward the near sideline, got a foot in bounds, and managed to hang on for what turned out to be the game winner.

 

"That was the old double roll… I'm sure you've seen it on Sundays many, many times before," said Coach Miles with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "It was an ad-lib, and a guy with a very strong arm and our man that got open in the end zone and that was it."

 

The drive didn't start off quite the way the Bayou faithful had envisioned.  After the first non-touchback of the game, the Tigers began at their own 9 yard line faced with 91 yards of bermuda grass to go for a win. 

 

LSU responded to the challenge, chipping away with 2 runs totaling 10 yards by Joseph Addai to get things started and the Tigers' confidence skyrocketing.

 

After a completion to Doucet, Russell hit Addai out of the backfield to move the chains down to the Arizona State 39 yard line, where the Tigers stalled before 4th down.

 

Then Russell hit Doucet in the end zone to cap off the scoring on a night that saw the two offenses put up 994 total yards, 705 of it through the air.

 

Russell finished the night 16-for-29, with 232 yards and 1 TD, completing passes to 7 different receivers.

That the final play even went to Doucet was proof of the Tigers belief in one another, as the sophomore from St. Martinville had several key drops in the first half.

 

"I got faith, never give up and I never gave up in his ability," said sophomore quarterback JaMarcus Russell of his wide receiver. "God was with him and he's been with all of us thus far."

 

"First half I dropped a few passes," said Doucet, who turned from potential scapegoat to hero. "I got down on myself early but some of the veterans of the team like Joe, JaMarcus, and Skyler just kept telling me to keep my head in the game and don't get down on myself." 

 

Though the Tigers seemingly had all the momentum with time running down, Arizona State responded quickly.

Sam Keller connected first with Mutz for a 28-yard gain that put the ball at the 48 on the ASU side of midfield.

 

Then, with just over a minute left, Keller hooked up with Jamaal Lewis for the third time on the night, for a 24-yard pickup that placed the ball on the LSU 28.  The Sun Devils still had 3 timeouts to play with and the crowd on their side.

 

Three straight Keller miscues put the Devils in a 4th and 10 situation, with time running out as well as their opportunity to win the game.  Keller was pressured backside, stepped up, and misfired once more as the ball dropped and Tiger faithful rejoiced in an astounding road victory.

 

"Within the scheme that we employed as coaches, our players were not going to be denied tonight, our players won this game," said Coach Miles when asked about the last drive of the game.

 

The loss dropped Arizona State to 1-1 on the year, possibly ending any national title aspirations the Sun Devils may have had.

 

Though the game was decided within the final minutes, it didn't look like a feasible task for the Tigers to overcome a 17-7 deficit heading into the 4th quarter.  Two special teams plays shifted the momentum to the LSU bench.

 

In 80 seconds, the purple and gold went from deflation to jubilation in what "kicked" off one of the wildest fourth-quarters in recent memory in all of college football.

 

On the second play of the fourth-quarter, Arizona State Junior place-kicker Jesse Ainsworth lined up for a 47-yard field goal that would have put the Sun Devils up 20-7 when fate seemed to take over for the 5th ranked Tigers. 

 

As the ball was snapped, senior defensive tackle Claude Wroten surged through Arizona State's protection, got a hand on Ainsworth's kick, shooting the ball straight in the air.  Running at full speed Senior Mario Stevenson caught the blocked kick and sprinted 55-yards for a touchdown that ignited the LSU bench and the some 6,000 fans that made the trip to support the "home team". 

 

On the ensuing possession, the Sun Devils were forced to punt after three lackluster plays. On 4th and 3, Arizona State lined up in a spread punt formation from its' own 27, with Sophomore Chris MacDonald ready to kick.  Instead, MacDonald rolled to his right, in what appeared to be a fake punt attempt. He was then pressured and attempted to kick and whiffed as he was hit by sophomore fullback Jacob Hester, deflecting the ball to a hustling Craig Steltz.  Steltz then scooped up the loose ball for a 29-yard touchdown return which put LSU up 21-17 with 13:27 to play. 

 

"Jacob Hester made a great hit on the punter," said Steltz, a sophomore defensive back from New Orleans. "I just got a lucky bounce, bounced right up to my stomach and went for the end zone."

 

"On the punt, we were in a run-kick option," said Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter. "That's something we've been working on and we just had an assignment breakdown up front."

 

The timing on both plays couldn't have been more perfect.  After all it was the first time an LSU team had blocked both a field goal and a punt in the same game since 2003, when they accomplished the feat against meager Western Illinois in Baton Rouge.

 

At 14:47 left to play, it was Arizona State 17-7.  At 13:27, LSU 21-17.  What a difference 80 seconds makes.

The entire Tiger team was ignited by the two special-teams plays, helping bring an offense that lacked punch off the mat to help secure a huge win.

 

"I think it was because everybody was playing their part; defense, special teams and we (the offense) had to come and pull something together and we just came together at the end and made it happen," said Senior Joseph Addai of the offensive outburst in the 4th quarter. "Believing in each other, trusting each other, we have been working really hard for this and there is no way we were going back home with a loss."

 

Addai was one of three tailbacks who saw significant action in the game, along with senior Shyrone Carey and junior Justin Vincent. Addai led the trio with 16 carries for 109 yards to go along with 2 TD runs.  

 

Early on, it was Arizona State's special teams that made plays to put the Tigers in some tight spots.

 

LSU started with the ball inside their own five-yard line on each of its first two possessions after terrific kicks by ASU punter Chris MacDonald.

 

After starting at their own one-yard line on their second possession of the game, LSU was able to drive down to the Arizona State 7, burning more than 11 minutes off the clock spanning between the first and second quarters.

Russell seemed to settle down hitting wide receiver Craig Davis for strikes of 14, 12, and 18 yards to move the ball deep into ASU territory.  Shyrone Carey helped carry the load with 32 yards on the ground as part of the Tigers' 3-headed rushing attack.

 

The drive resulted in zero points however after JaMarcus Russell rolled right and had the ball slip out of his hand, only to have Arizona State recover the ball on what was ruled a sack and fumble at the 19.

 

"That was a tough drive," said senior wide receiver Skyler Green. "We rolled the clock, ate the clock up and just couldn't get points.  That hurt us.  If we would've gotten points on that drive it probably would've been a totally different game."

 

The turnover lead to the first points of the game, when ASU quarterback Sam Keller connected with a diving Jamaal Lewis from 25 yards out on a terrific pitch and catch that put the Sun Devils up 7-0 with 9:50 to play in the half.  Keller, taking over for last year's starter and current Oakland Raider Quarterback Andrew Walter, finished the day 35-for-56, with 461 yards and 4 TD in a losing effort.

 

The Tigers were finally able to do some scoring of their own, responding with an 80-yard touchdown drive that marked the first points of the 2005 season.  LSU was able to nickel and dime its way down the field before JaMarcus Russell connected with speedster Bennie Brazell for a 28-yard pass to the ASU 1.  That big gain helped to set up Joseph Addai's 1-yard scamper into the end zone, knotting the score at 7 with 6:10 to go in the first half.  Addai accounted for 38 yards on the drive including runs of 15 and 12 yards.

 

Arizona State finished the scoring in the first half driving down to the LSU 10 yard line, settling for a 26-yard Jesse Ainsworth field goal that put the Sun Devils up 10-7 going into the locker room.

 

Though the Tigers were down at the half, Coach Miles knew the game was far from over.  "No matter what obstacles were presented to them, they were going to find a way to win," Miles said of his team's effort.

Thus has been the rallying cry for all of Louisiana as one LSU fan's sign said it all Saturday night, "I may not have my house, but I've still got my Tigers!"


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