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A Sun Devil remembers his favorite memories of the Territorial Cup

Now that I’ve seen the pathetic list of a Wildcat fan’s happiest memories (really Adam, 2011? A three-win team under an interim head coach beating a team that had completely given up?), I thought I’d share my favorite memories in the Territorial Cup rivalry.

(Note: This piece was originally written before the 2012 game in Tucson. And before I get to the rankings, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 2013 contest.)

The 2013 Territorial Cup game felt a lot like the 1996 contest — for me, anyway. The Sun Devils had already clinched the Pac-12 South when they hosted the Wildcats in Tempe, much like they had already clinched the Pac-10 title in 1996 when they faced Arizona in Tucson.

And much like ’96, this was a good, old-fashioned whoopin’ handed out by the Devils. Arizona State jumped out to a 27-0 lead midway through the second quarter on a Taylor Kelly-to-Darwin Rogers touchdown pass and scoring runs by D.J. Foster and De’Marieya Nelson.

The Wildcats started to creep back into the contest and got it to 30-14 in the third quarter after Ka’Deem Carey scored on an 8-yard touchdown run on Arizona’s first drive of the half. The ‘Cats then forced a three-and-out, and those in attendance could feel a momentum shift. Damarious Randall put an end to that.

The safety stepped in front of a B.J. Denker pass and raced 64 yards for a touchdown, pretty much icing the Sun Devils’ second straight win in the rivalry. For good measure, Jaelen Strong caught a 61-yard touchdown pass and Foster and Nelson each found the end zone again in a 58-21 romp.

OK, now back to the list…

1. 1996- ASU 56, Arizona 14 – The Sun Devils had already wrapped up their second trip to the Rose Bowl the week prior by ripping Cal 35-7. This game was basically for pride, and ASU made their fan base proud with a thorough 56-14 dismantling of the Wildcats. The image of Keith Poole in the end zone, arms raised in front of Arizona’s Chris McAlister, is one that is burned in the minds of ASU fans forever.

Yes, the game had its ugliness — several players were ejected because of cheap shots. But this game was cathartic for ASU fans. A decade earlier, the Sun Devils had wrapped up a trip to the Rose Bowl a week earlier, meaning the Arizona game was meaningless in the Pac-10 standings. But the Wildcats rose up and beat ASU 34-17 in a game featuring the world’s slowest 106-yard interception return for a touchdown by Chuck Cecil. Wildcat fans chirped about that game for ten years, and the 1996 shellacking shut them up…temporarily.

2. 1980 – ASU 44, Arizona 7 – This is the earliest memory I have of the rivalry, and the fuzziest. But I remember watching the distruction on an ABC regional broadcast that Saturday afternoon, and watching Vernon Maxwell wreak havoc on the ‘Cats. The sophomore linebacker blocked a punt in the first quarter and fell on it for a touchdown, intercepted a Tom Tunnicliffe pass and had eight tackles in the Sun Devils’ victory. Bryan Caldwell also recovered two fumbles, and future Super Bowl Shuffler Mike Richardson brought a pick back 35 yards for a touchdown.

3. 1992 – ASU 7, Arizona 6 – I remember being so sick of hearing about Arizona’s top-ranked rushing defense, the one that had earned them the nickname “Desert Swarm”. Yeah, they were good — and they were very good in holding the Sun Devils to almost nothing on the ground for the first three quarters of the 1992 rivalry game. That is until the third play of the fourth quarter, when Kevin Galbreath ran right, broke tackles of Arizona safety Brandon Sanders and linebacker Brant Boyer, and rumbled 51 yards for a touchdown. ASU’s defense, which was pretty stout in its own right (and without the annoying nickname), held on for the win, the first in the rivalry for head coach Bruce Snyder.

4. 1991 – ASU 37, Arizona 14 – “The Streak”. It’s definitely right up there in the most painful memories for Sun Devils everywhere. For nine straight years, the Wildcats didn’t lose to ASU on the football field. Yes, that streak included a tie in 1987, when a gutless call by Dick Tomey to kick a field goal in the game’s closing seconds led Arizona to a 4-4-3 record. Yes, they played for their third tie in a rivalry game! Anyway, the streak finally came to an end on November 23, 1991 when the Sun Devils demolished the Wildcats 37-14 at Sun Devil Stadium in Larry Marmie’s final game as ASU’s head coach. Eric Guliford scored on a touchdown catch and a 68-yard punt return and the ASU defense held Arizona to just 155 yards of total offense.

5. 2010 – ASU 30, Arizona 29 (2OT) – The game meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. ASU needed a win to get to six victories and a chance at a bowl game, but since they had wins against two FCS teams, their appeal was denied. This was just an entertaining football game. The Sun Devils, hampered by a struggling offense, trailed 14-6 entering the fourth quarter but got a Brock Osweiler to Mike Willie touchdown pass sandwiched by two Thomas Weber field goals to take a 20-14 lead. But Arizona would score on a Nick Foles touchdown pass to David Douglas with just :27 left in the game to tie it up. An Alex Zendejas extra point would hand Pitchfork Nation another heart-breaking loss, but James Brooks, the 6-foot-5 defensive end blocked the extra point, sending the game into overtime. The teams traded field goals in the first overtime, and in the second, the Sun Devils jumped out to a 30-23 lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Cameron Marshall. Arizona got the ball back and scored on a Foles lateral to Douglas who ran it in from nine yards out. An extra point would tie the game and send it to a third overtime period, but Zendejas kicked the extra point low, it was deflected, fluttered off wide-right, and ASU scored an improbable 30-29 win. ASU, who lost two games because of botched extra points during the course of the 2010 campaign, blocked two in the same game to beat their rivals.

Like I said, in the grand scheme of things, the win did nothing more than leave a pleasant taste in the mouth after a lackluster season, but I’ll never forget the interview ASU linebacker Brandon Magee gave on the field after the game.

“I feel great, I’ve never felt like this in my life,” Magee said, fighting back pure giddiness.

It’s amazing how one win over one team can make you feel that way, isn’t it?

It would be hard not to include the 2012 game on this list as well — it was a game of massive momentum swings. The Wildcats led 27-17 heading into the fourth quarter after scoring 17 straight points, capped by a Matt Scott-to-Garic Wharton 40-yard touchdown that was nearly intercepted by ASU.

Arizona State kicker Jon Mora closed the gap to seven with a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. But UA looked like they would answer — the Wildcats drove inside the red zone and on a first down play Scott inexplicably launched himself into an ASU defender, fumbling the football. Deveron Carr recovered for the Sun Devils, who went on a six-play, 56-yard drive that ended in a Marion Grice 4-yard touchdown run to tie the score.

UA would go three-and-out on their next drive and on fourth down, Kevin Ayers blocked a punt that the Devils recovered at the UA 8-yard line. One play later, Cameron Marshall ran for a touchdown and just like that, ASU led 34-27. Robert Nelson would then pick off Scott and return it to the Wildcats’ 2-yard line, setting up a Michael Eubank touchdown run.

In all, ASU scored 24 points in a nine-minute span to reclaim the Territorial Cup.

That night, I got to fill-in for Doug Franz and worked the sideline on the ASU radio broadcast. To be on the field to witness the momentum shift and the celebration was unbelievable. But being in ASU’s locker room immediately after the game was even better. To hear Todd Graham’s impassioned post game speech, to see him hugging legendary Sun Devil coach Frank Kush — stuff I’ll never forget. I even got to see the text message sent to Graham from former ASU coach Dennis Erickson congratulating the team on a great win.

I’ve always known how much this rivalry means to those involved, but it was nice to receive a little reminder of what it means to the players and coaches battling on the field.