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Graham, Sun Devils upbeat as they begin bowl preparations

Arizona State coach Todd Graham raises his arms after Arizona State defeated Oregon 37-35 during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Despite the impending end of Todd Graham’s career as Arizona State’s football coach, Friday’s practice was celebratory for the Sun Devils as they were still enjoying their win over rival Arizona in the Territorial Cup.

The 42-30 home victory to bring the team to a 7-5 record was overshadowed by the news of Graham’s firing early in the week, but players were dancing and in generally happy spirits, taking time to appreciate the win as a group.

“Winning the Territorial Cup is a big deal around here, so we tried to do a little bit of celebrating today,” Graham said. “That’s something that, getting it done in that game, there’s nothing else like it. I’ve gone back and watched it two or three times.”

The cup itself made its return to ASU’s campus on Friday, and running back Demario Richard said he would likely make an effort to stop by the campus library where it is being housed.

After the Sun Devils won the game, Richard said he ran immediately over to the far side of the field to celebrate with friends and teammates but did not get a chance to actually touch the trophy the team worked so hard to accomplish, as is tradition after a big win.

“I might have to go see it, cradle it a little bit,” he said.

Looking back fondly on the victory can only last so long though, and linebacker Christian Sam said the team’s focus will shift toward preparing for the team’s bowl game. Though the looming firing of the coach that recruited the school’s talented roster hangs over the final game of the season, Sam said the team needs to lock in and end the year on a high note.

“We still have the focus, to get win No. 8 no matter the circumstances,” he said. “We can’t let any of that affect us. We’ve just got to go out there and still do our job.”

For wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who lauded Graham’s contributions to the university and the football team, the final game could serve as a happy send-off.

“We’re excited that we’re playing in a bowl game, we’re blessed to be playing in a bowl game. We’re trying to send him out on a high note,” he said.

Leading up to his last game, Graham said there is little pressure on him, and that he has received numerous calls and had many conversations with players, fans and administrators in which those closest thanked him for his time at ASU, which began in 2012.

The opponent in the upcoming bowl game has not been selected yet, which the team said makes it difficult to do much game preparation, but ASU will continue to enjoy its latest victory and tighten up its schemes and favorite plays.

“You just focus on you in the meantime, polish the stuff you need to polish, and when you find out who you’re playing, that’s when you start preparing for them,” Sam said.

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