TUCSON, Ariz. — The Territorial Cup game between Arizona and Arizona State last year did not go nearly as well as the Wildcats would have liked.
Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona Wildcats were trying to wrap up a surprisingly successful season with a win over their in-state rivals, and with a 27-17 fourth quarter lead, things seemed to be heading in the right direction.
But with the help of shaky Wildcat defense and some key turnovers, Todd Graham’s Sun Devils reeled off 24 consecutive points, ultimately beating Arizona by a score of 41-34.
“It hurt a lot,” Arizona safety Jared Tevis said of the loss. “ASU is always a game we want to win. It definitely still stings a little bit, so we are trying to change that his year and get that Cup back.”
The game marked the first battle between Arizona’s Rodriguez and ASU’s Graham, each of whom was hired prior to the season, but was well aware of how important the rivalry game is.
“You’d have to be living under a rock if you play for Arizona and don’t realize how important the ASU rivalry is,” Rodriguez said at his weekly press conference Monday.
The Wildcats are coming off their most impressive win in years, a 42-16 rout of No. 5 Oregon in Tucson. It was a dominant effort from the very beginning, one that gives UA faithful hope that the team could pull off the upset over an ASU team that is looking to earn homefield advantage in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a win.
Dashing those hopes would surely be nice, but Rodriguez doesn’t think his team needs any extra motivation.
“We’re trying to improve our bowl status and it’s our last regular season game but, in and of itself, it’s the ASU game,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college sports.”
Rodriguez added that he thinks rivalry games help make college football special, as it breeds passion in fans, alumni and the schools themselves.
Following last year’s loss, Arizona leads the all-time series 47-38-1. The teams have alternated victories each of the last four years, with the visitors winning each time. And, as has often been the case, the “better” team has not always been the one to emerge with a win.
But no matter how it happens or whether it not it should have happened, coming out on top is the most important thing.
“Once you get here, you learn quickly what this game means and how important it I,” Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said. “On my official visit here, I was taught what Bear Down was and why we don’t like that school up north.”