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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “New year, same finish”

    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama has a look of dejection after a pass intended for running back Chris Jennings was knocked down in the end zone, turning the ball over on downs late in the fourth quarter in Saturdays 20-17 loss to
    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama has a look of dejection after a pass intended for running back Chris Jennings was knocked down in the end zone, turning the ball over on downs late in the fourth quarter in Saturday’s 20-17 loss to

    TEMPE – It’s déjÇÿ vu all over again.

    In a game in which the Arizona football team could have clinched a bowl berth for the second consecutive year against its archrivals, the result was the same: a loss.

    The Wildcats (5-7, 4-5 Pacific 10 Conference) will have to settle for their ninth straight season without a postseason appearance, despite winning three of their last four games – eerily reminiscent of last season, when Arizona won three straight before losing to ASU at home.

    Now, the Territorial Cup will remain up north in the Phoenix valley, after the No. 13 Sun Devils (10-2, 7-2) won their third consecutive rivalry game over the Wildcats 20-17 on Saturday.

    It is the Sun Devils’ first three-game winning streak against the Wildcats since they won four straight from 1975-1978.

    ASU has now won seven of the last nine “”Duel in the Desert”” battles. Before Saturday, Arizona had defeated a ranked ASU team four straight times.

    After two consecutive games of Arizona fans rushing the field at home, it was the home ASU fans who stormed the field this time.

    In the rivalry, the teams couldn’t be more opposite. In the nine years since the Wildcats have gained a bowl berth, the Sun Devils have six of them.

    “”They just made the big plays when they needed to and we didn’t,”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen. “”They’re used to winning. They do the things that need to be done to win.””

    The game was a perfect summary of the entire season for Arizona. The team had moments of brilliance but faltered at the end when opportunities arose.

    Despite the added pressure of the possibility of bowl eligibility, players said the team didn’t play tight, like they had confessed to in last season’s matchup.

    “”We shouldn’t have been in this situation, but we were,”” said cornerback Antoine Cason.

    For the first time in his career, quarterback Willie Tuitama was able to avoid getting knocked out via injury against the Sun Devils, but he struggled, throwing two key interceptions, one in the end zone. A touchdown pass then would have put the Wildcats up 14-7 midway through the second quarter.

    Arizona trailed 13-7 heading into the fourth despite three turnovers and being outgained 279 yards to 163.

    Kicker Jason Bondzio nailed a 31-yard field goal with 8:47 to play, making it a three-point game. The Sun Devils drove 80 yards on the ensuing possession, as a 20-yard pass from quarterback Rudy Carpenter to Michael Jones made the score 20-10 with 4:27 remaining.

    Arizona kick returner Mike Thomas followed with a 55-yard return, and the Wildcats pushed the ball to the Sun Devil two-yard line on a 13-yard scamper by Tuitama. The drive stalled when a pass intended for running back Chris Jennings was broken up in the end zone.

    The Wildcats had another chance to score after the Sun Devils couldn’t get the ball past their own two-yard line. ASU punted, and the Wildcats responded with a touchdown drive on a four-yard pass to Nicolas Grigsby, making the score 20-17.

    Time was not Arizona’s ally, however, and after an unsuccessful onside kick try, the game was sealed when the Sun Devils recovered near midfield.

    “”You can blame it on what you want to, but hands down we just didn’t get the job done,”” Thomas said. “”We just couldn’t get in a rhythm.””

    From the start of the game, it appeared Arizona was in the driver’s seat after safety Corey Hall forced a fumble Larsen recovered on the second play of the game, leading to an early 7-0 Wildcat lead.

    Arizona did not score again until the fourth quarter.

    “”We didn’t play better as a team, and ASU certainly had a lot to do with that,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”It just seemed like we couldn’t make a play and they made them all.””

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