ASU vs. Arizona: The 10 greatest games in Territorial Cup history
What makes a college football game — especially a rivalry game — truly “great?”
Some fans would say a close final score is crucial. Others would say games that include iconic individual plays deserve special mention.
In compiling the list of the best games in Territorial Cup history, ArizonaSports.com placed a high emphasis on games that were close, had memorable plays and performances, and were especially meaningful in terms of bowl implications.
With that in mind, here’s our analysis of the 10 greatest games in the history of the Duel in the Desert.
10. UA 16, ASU 13 (1985)
In 1982, the Wildcats prevented the Sun Devils from going to what would have been their first Rose Bowl appearance by upending ASU 28-18 in Tucson.
Three years later, ASU only needed a tie to earn that elusive Rose Bowl bid, but the Wildcats overcame a 13-3 second-half deficit to stun the Sun Devil Stadium crowd, thanks in part to a pair of fourth-quarter field goals by Max Zendejas, including a school record-tying 57-yarder that knotted the game.
Under coach Larry Smith, UA finished the year 8-3-1 after a Sun Bowl win over Georgia, while coach John Cooper and the Sun Devils ended the season 8-4 after a loss to Arkansas in the Holiday Bowl.
9. ASU 18, UA 17 (1978)
In Frank Kush’s final game as ASU head coach, Sun Devil quarterback Mark Malone threw a pair of touchdown passes, and kicker Bill Zivic’s 45-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds went wide left as the Devils survived in Tucson.
The loss left UA with a 5-6 record under second-year coach Tony Mason. ASU finished the season 9-3, and Kush concluded his ASU career with a 16-5 record against the ‘Cats, including a nine-game winning streak from 1965-73.
8. ASU 23, UA 20 (2005)
In one of the most impressive come-from-behind victories in rivalry history, coach Dirk Koetter and the Sun Devils rallied from a 20-5 deficit to score the final 18 points of the game, capped by a game-winning field goal by Jesse Ainsworth in the final minute in Tempe.
Wide receiver Terry Richardson’s punt return for a touchdown and QB Rudy Carpenter’s subsequent two-point conversion pass to tight end Zach Miller tied the game after UA QB Willie Tuitama exited the game with a shoulder injury.
ASU finished the season 7-5, while the Wildcats ended the year 3-8 under second-year coach Mike Stoops.
7. UA 34, ASU 17 (1986)
It’s not ranked higher on this list because it wasn’t a close game, but the nationally televised matchup between No. 4 ASU and No. 14 UA had plenty of memorable moments, especially for the host Wildcats.
The Sun Devils were undefeated and had already clinched their first-ever Rose Bowl bid, but UA beat its rivals for the fifth straight year thanks to a pair of amazing defensive plays.
In the third quarter, fullback Channing Williams was stood up by defensive back James DeBow on fourth and goal inside the 1-yard line, and a 100-plus-yard interception return by Chuck Cecil off QB Jeff van Raaphorst in the fourth quarter iced the game.
Cooper’s Sun Devils wrapped up their season 10-1-1 after their Rose Bowl victory over Michigan, while Smith and the Wildcats finished 9-3 with a victory over North Carolina in the Aloha Bowl.
6. UA 31, ASU 28 (1995)
Quarterback Jake Plummer and the Sun Devils appeared to be on their way to avenging losses to the Wildcats in each of the previous two seasons. But trailing 28-14 in the fourth quarter, UA mounted a rally thanks to a touchdown pass from QB Dan White to WR Cary Taylor, followed by a sack and forced fumble of Plummer that resulted in an 8-yard return for a TD by defensive tackle Joe Salave’a.
The shell-shocked Sun Devils were unable to mount any offense the rest of the way, and White drove the Wildcats into position for kicker Jon Prasuhn to boot a 36-yard game-winner with less than 30 seconds to play in Tempe.
The win allowed the Wildcats to finish the season above .500 (6-5), as Dick Tomey improved to 6-2-1 against ASU as UA head coach. ASU also finished the year 6-5, and coach Bruce Snyder fell to 1-3 against the ‘Cats.
5. ASU 7, UA 6 (1992)
It remains one of the lowest-scoring Territorial Cup games of all time. Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense dominated ASU for three quarters, holding the Devils to under 100 yards of total offense and disallowing them to cross midfield until fourth-string tailback Kevin Galbreath broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run — the only TD of the game for either side — to erase a 6-0 UA lead.
Kicker Steve McLaughlin had a chance to get UA the win with a 57-yard attempt that would have tied Zendejas’ mark, but his try fell just short in the final moments to give the Devils their first win in Tucson since 1980. The Wildcats finished the year 6-5-1 under Tomey, and the Devils went 6-5 in Snyder’s first season in Tempe.
4. UA 17, ASU 15 (1983)
Max Zendejas became known as a Sun Devil killer during his four years in Tucson, and it all started in ’83.
UA took a 14-6 lead into halftime thanks to a touchdown pass from QB Tom Tunnicliffe to WR Vance Johhson. But the Devils took a late 15-14 with a TD toss from QB Todd Hons to tailback Mike Crawford, though the two-point conversion attempt failed.
ASU kicker Luis Zendejas set multiple NCAA kicking records that season and connected on three field goals against the Wildcats, but Max overshadowed his brother by hitting a 45-yard field goal as time expired to give UA its second straight win over the Devils. The loss dropped coach Darryl Rogers and ASU to 6-4-1 on the season, while Smith’s Wildcats improved to 7-3-1.
3. ASU 30, UA 29 (2OT; 2010)
There wasn’t a whole lot on the line other than state pride in 2010, but for ASU, it was a moment of redemption after a disappointing season with a number of close losses.
Trailing 20-14 at Arizona Stadium, UA QB Nick Foles connected with WR David Douglas for a 5-yard TD to pull the Wildcats even with less than a minute to play. But the extra-point attempt by Alex Zendejas, nephew of Max and Luis Zendejas, was blocked by ASU defensive lineman James Brooks, sending the game to the first and only overtime in Territorial Cup history.
Both teams traded field goals in the first overtime. In the second OT, RB Cameron Marshall’s 2-yard TD run put ASU ahead. UA responded on a Douglas TD run, but Zendejas’ PAT attempt was once again blocked by Brooks, allowing coach Dennis Erickson and the Devils to escape Tucson with a win and a 6-6 season record.
The Wildcats finished the season 7-6, losing their final five games in Stoops’ last full season as UA head coach.
2. UA 50, ASU 42 (1998)
Here’s everything you need to know about the highest-scoring game in Territorial Cup history: Sun Devil QB Ryan Kealy threw for 511 yards and four TDs — the third-highest passing yardage total in school history at the time — but it wasn’t enough against No. 7 UA in the ’98 Duel in Tucson.
In arguably the greatest individual performance in Duel in the Desert history, Wildcat RB Trung Canidate rushed for 288 yards on 18 carries and scored TDs on rushes of 80, 66 and 48 yards.
The ‘Cats and Devils combined for nearly 1,200 yards of total offense as Tomey’s team beat ASU for the fifth time in six games en route to a 12-1 record and a Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska. Snyder’s Sun Devils ended the season 5-6.
1. ASU 24, UA 21 (1975)
It had all the elements of a meaningful matchup: two highly-ranked teams, a tightly-contested contest, a second-half comeback and an iconic play.
With the Fiesta Bowl on the line for the winning team, No. 12 UA took an early 14-3 lead at No. 8 ASU. Late in the first half, ASU QB Dennis Sproul appeared to overthrow WR John Jefferson in the end zone. Instead, Jefferson made a magnificent diving grab — a moment known in Tempe simply as “The Catch” — to trim the Wildcats’ lead to 14-10 at halftime and turn the game’s momentum upside-down.
The lead changed hands several times in the second half, but Sproul’s 1-yard QB keeper to cap an 80-yard drive gave ASU the lead for good. Kush’s Devils capped a perfect 12-0 season with a 17-14 win over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, while UA finished the season 9-2 and bowl-less under third-year coach Jim Young.