EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Kalen Ballage was itching to do something, anything, to help his Arizona State teammates beat Duke.
When he got his chance, he came through in a big way, returning a kickoff 96 yards to set up the winning score in No. 15 Arizona State’s 36-31 victory Saturday in the Sun Bowl.
“It felt great,” Ballage said. “I told the seniors, ‘I got to do something.’ They helped me grow. That was going through my head. I really wanted to do that for them.”
Ballage’s big return came after Duke (9-4) took a 31-30 lead — its first advantage of the game — on receiver Jamison Crowder’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney with 5:03 left.
On the drive, punter Will Monday threw to a wide-open Johnell Barnes on fourth-and-11 from the 50. Four players later, Duke took the lead on the trick play on fourth-and-2.
On the kickoff, Ballage took the ball near the goal line and went straight up the right hash for about 15 yards before picking up a block and cutting to his right. He was pushed out of bounds at the 4.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Ballage said. “The blocks just got set up perfectly.”
On the next play, Demario Richard took a shovel pass from Taylor Kelly and bulled his way over the left side and into the end zone. Kelly was stopped on the 2-point conversion try.
Duke drove to 14 on its final drive, but Anthony Boone’s third-and-10 pass was intercepted by Kweishi Brown in the end zone with 45 seconds left.
It was a heartbreaking end for Duke team that also lost close bowl games the previous two seasons. Duke also missed a chance to make program history with consecutive 10-win seasons, while Arizona State (10-3) tied program history with a third consecutive 10-win campaign.
“I felt we were very ready to play today,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We shot ourselves in the foot early. Unfortunately, we got in a position to win the game and didn’t win it. If you give up a play in the kicking game, generally it will haunt you. I’m not dejected about the way we played or frustrated. I am sad we lost the ballgame because of our seniors.”
In the other locker room, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and his team celebrated what he said was a season-defining victory.
“There was no way we were going to finish any other way than champions,” Graham said. “That’s the only way those seniors were going to finish was the way Pat Tillman finished — holding up that Sun Bowl trophy.”
Richard, a freshman, was selected the game MVP. He scored four touchdowns for the Sun Devils and tied a Sun Bowl record for points with 24. Richard carried seven times for 41 yards and two scores, and caught five passes for 22 yards and two more touchdowns.
“It’s a great feeling,” Richard said. “It’s hard coming in as a freshman. I knew my role was increasing. I just stepped up and played my part.”
Duke cut it to 30-24 with 10:10 left in the fourth on Boone’s 14-yard pass to Barnes.
Richard opened the scoring with a 9-yard run in the first quarter and gave the Sun Devils, who scored the first four times they had the ball, a 20-3 lead on a 1-yard run midway through the second.
Duke rallied with two touchdowns in 1:55 span — Boone’s 14-yard pass to Shaquille Powell and Crowder’s 69-yard punt return — to cut it to 20-17 at the half.
“I was so frustrated,” Graham said. “We were kicking field goals instead of scoring (touchdowns). But that’s what great teams do — they kept battling and staying in it. At halftime they had seven first downs. How’s it a three-point game?
Kelly threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Richard in the third and Zane Gonzalez added a 47-yard field with 2:23 left in the quarter to push Arizona State’s lead to 30-17
Kelly was 24 of 34 for 240 yards in his final game for the Sun Devils.
Jaelen Strong, leaving early for the NFL, led Arizona State in receiving with seven catches for 103 yards. It was his 12th 100-yard receiving game, tying him for second in program history. D.J. Foster had 11 carries for 79 yards and caught three passes for 42 yards.
Boone was 15 of 31 for 193 yards. Powell ran for 117 yards on 29 carries and had three catches for 52 yards, and Crowder had seven receptions for 102 yards.
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