Sun Devil football vanquishes road demons in thrilling victory over USC

ASU pulls out the win in shootout versus USC

The story seemed almost too predictable for ASU football, as once again it appeared the Sun Devils' third quarter struggles would cost them another game.

With 6:12 left in the second quarter, the Sun Devils had grown a 24-7 lead and had given Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Sears fits all game long.

Even after surrendering a last-second touchdown to end the first half, spirits remained high as ASU entered halftime with a double-digit lead. Then came the third quarter, where the Sun Devils squandered their lead after two USC touchdowns and quickly found themselves down four.

Momentum clearly shifted sidelines, and one of college football’s most iconic and intimidating stadiums got louder than it had all day. 

Until this happened. 

The 92-yard punt return touchdown by junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry was not his best play of the day, that honor was saved for his ridiculous one handed grab early in the fourth quarter. Once the Sun Devils regained the lead they never gave it back, and for the first time in what felt like eons, ASU had pulled out a close win.  

“That’s what great players do,” coach Herm Edwards said. “In big moments they make plays and when you have enough of them on your team you’re always in the game. Great players make big plays in big moments.”

ASU head football coach Herm Edwards is interviewed on the sidelines in a game against the University of Southern California Trojans in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. ASU won 38-35.

There were big plays aplenty in a matchup Edwards called “good for television,” and redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins was responsible for his fair share and then some. Whether it was his perfect toss to Harry for the Sun Devils' first score of the game, or his game-sealing scamper for their last, Wilkins came through when ASU needed him most. 

“I’m super proud of how this team fought,” Wilkins said. “There was a moment where they took the lead and got the momentum back where we could’ve just shut it off. But we stayed poised in those moments, and some guys made some big plays. I think this team took a big step forward today and we deserve this win.” 

Defensively the Sun Devils had their ups and downs, but with their back against the wall they played some of the best football they have played this season. With ASU up three and 10:22 left in the ball game, USC possessed the ball on the Sun Devils 23-yard line with a chance to take the lead.

After a three-yard gain on third down brought it to fourth and one, Trojans coach Clay Helton sent out the field goal unit before calling a time out. As showers of boos and calls to go for it rained down from the stands, Helton changed his mind and instead decided to trot out his offense.

Sparky celebrates as ASU scores a touchdown against the University of Southern California Trojans in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

Thus ensued possibly the most dramatic Sun Devil stop of the season, as freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson shot through the hole to stop senior Trojan running back Aca’cedric Ware dead in his tracks — giving the ball back to the ASU offense.

“When he calls that timeout, I knew right there he was going to go for it,” said Edwards. “He let the fans talk him into it, and maybe he felt good about the fourth and one. I get it. We were really good on third down and fourth down.” 

ASU can credit their early game lead to a dominant performance from sophomore running back Eno Benjamin. Benjamin racked up 192 yards on 29 carries to go along with his two touchdowns. 

None of the Sun Devils success on the ground would have been possible without with an impressive showing from a much-maligned offensive line. The unit controlled the trenches from the opening kick-off, and made life significantly easier for the Sun Devil offense as a whole. 

“We watched some film," Benjamin said. "And I knew they had some young linebackers, so I just trusted our offensive line to get the job done. We went out there and did everything we were supposed to do.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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