TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown on the game’s third play. The Sun Devils failed on four tries inside Arizona’s 3 on another drive. An interception led to another touchdown.
With a chance at a second straight Pac-12 South title, the Sun Devils couldn’t get out of their own way Friday in the Territorial Cup.
No. 13 Arizona State rallied in the second half behind Mike Bercovici, but had too many mistakes to overcome in a 42-35 loss to No. 12 Arizona that gave the Wildcats the Pac-12 South.
“I hate to come in here and say we beat ourselves, but that’s really what we did,” Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said.
Arizona (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12, CFP No. 11) needed to beat its biggest rival and have Stanford knock off No. 9 UCLA to win the Pac-12 South.
The Cardinal took care of the first part by rolling over the Bruins. The Wildcats handled their end with a stream of big plays and a final defensive stand.
Nick Wilson was again explosive, running for 179 yards and three touchdowns a week after racking up 218 yards.
Anu Solomon was a little slow after an ankle injury last week, but threw for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Samajie Grant.
Arizona’s defense scored a touchdown early and forced a turnover on downs after Arizona State started its final drive near midfield.
The victory combined with Stanford’s win earned the Wildcats a rematch with No. 3 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in the Bay Area. Arizona beat the Ducks 31-24 in Eugene on Oct. 2.
“This is what you live for,” said Arizona safety Jourdan Grandon, who had a key interception late.
The Sun Devils (9-3, 6-3, CFP No. 13) kept it close despite a slew of mistakes.
Their offense had a turnover that led to a score on its first drive, another to set up Arizona with a short field for a touchdown and couldn’t punch it in with four tries inside Arizona’s 3-yard line.
ASU’s defense was hit with two long scoring plays and wasn’t able to consistently stop the Wildcats.
Bercovici provided a spark after replacing Taylor Kelly at quarterback, but a final drive stalled at Arizona’s 40, dashing the Sun Devils’ hopes of a second straight trip to the Pac-12 title game.
“It’s the ultimate bitter taste in our mouths and it’s going to last the rest of our lives,” said Bercovici, who threw for two touchdowns but also threw an interception in the fourth quarter.
The latest Duel in the Desert for the Territorial Cup was arguably the most anticipated in the rivalry’s 88-game history.
The usual bragging rights were there, of course. A shot at the Pac-12 South for both teams added to it.
The game lived up to the hype, too, the big plays coming right out of the gate.
Arizona scored 44 seconds in on Anthony Lopez’s 25-yard fumble recovery after Scooby Wright sacked and stripped Kelly.
The Sun Devils tied it on a defensive touchdown of their own when Demetrius Cherry rumbled in for a 2-yard score after Solomon bobbled and snap and couldn’t cover it.
Two of the nation’s best offenses, two defensive touchdowns to start — of course.
More big plays followed, on offense instead.
Grant caught a ball down the sideline, made a couple of jukes and cut back for a 69-yard touchdown.
Jalen Strong, as he usually does, answered spectacularly: laying out for a 50-yard reception, nonchalantly snaring a 3-yard touchdown catch with his left hand to tie it at 14l.
Wilson put Arizona back up on a 21-yard run on fourth-and-short.
A muffed punt by Devonte Neal set up a 7-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to Demario Richard that pulled the Sun Devils even at halftime.
“It was eerily quiet at halftime,” Rodriguez said. “They weren’t really saying much, but at about the nine-minute mark of halftime, they were ready to get back onto the field.”
The Wildcats seemed to take control in the third quarter, gaining a little breathing room when Wilson scored on 1-yard dive and a 72-yard burst up the middle to put the Wildcats up 35-21.
Bercovici gave the Sun Devils a lift, then a letdown after replacing Kelly late in the third quarter.
He hit tight end Kody Kohl on a 2-yard TD pass early in the fourth, but threw a ball into coverage that Grandon picked off, setting up Arizona with a short field. Two plays later, Solomon rolled right and found Grant on a 20-yard touchdown pass, pushing the lead back to two touchdowns.
Bercovici hit De’Marieya Nelson for a 9-yard touchdown and Arizona State got the ball back with less than 3 minutes left, but turned it over on downs when Bercovici threw an incompletion.
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