ASU snatches victory from the jaws of defeat in thrilling comeback victory

Sun Devils pull off magical comeback in win over Arizona

 “What just happened?”

A bewildered Rob Likens stood in disbelief as he watched Sun Devil players swarm around him and celebrate the most improbable of victories. 

ASU, who had been outplayed and outmatched the entire game, made plays when it mattered most, and came away with a season-defining 41-40 victory against the Arizona Wildcats.  

“We just trusted coach’s plan,” said redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins. “We didn’t deviate from our game plan, and we knew that if we just chipped away slowly and stayed the course, we’d have an opportunity. We got an opportunity, and we capitalized.” 

Trailing by 19 to start the fourth quarter, ASU’s win probability stood at a whopping 2.5 percent, according to ESPN.

The offense had looked lethargic all game, as Wilkins had failed to create any sort of consistent passing attack while sophomore running back Eno Benjamin had been bottled up.

The defense wasn’t faring much better, as they had been gouged by junior Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate. Yet the team never lost faith, and with the reality of ending their season on a blowout loss to their rival staring them in the face, the team began to click. 

“This is crazy to say, but we are very comfortable in one-score games,” said head coach Herm Edwards. “We don’t panic, it’s just not in our DNA. I believe as long as you don’t panic, and you stay true to who you are, you’re going to have a chance at the end.” 

ASU’s first touchdown of the fourth quarter came on an 11-yard Wilkins scramble, set up by four straight completions that moved the Sun Devils from the Arizona State 33-yard line to the Arizona 11. 

After an improbable two-point conversion that saw Wilkins weave in and out of trouble before finding redshirt junior tight end Tommy Hudson in the corner of the end zone, Wilkins had one simple command for his defense. 

“After we scored, I went immediately to the defense and looked every one of them in the eyes,” Wilkins said. “They saw my look, and I said go get me the ball. And they did.” 

Arizona’s first turnover of the quarter came courtesy of freshman safety Aashari Crosswell, who nabbed his second interception in as many games. ASU was able to turn the timely interception into three points, slicing the Wildcat lead to only five. 

On the ensuing drive, the Sun Devil defense once again came up huge, as redshirt freshman linebacker Tyler Johnson scooped up a mishandled handoff to put ASU in prime position to pull ahead. 

On the very next play, that’s exactly what they did, as Benjamin scurried into the end zone to give ASU its first lead of the day. 

“This is a critical time in what we’re trying to build,” said defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales. “You can either lay down and they’re going to embarrass you, or you can fight back. If you make a couple plays and get some turnovers like we have the past couple weeks, you can give the offense a chance to score and we’ll have a chance to win."

Saturday’s victory marked the final Pac-12 contest for Wilkins, who ends his career 2-1 as a starter against the Wildcats. It wasn’t his crispest performance as a Sun Devil, finishing 18-31 for 265 yards and one touchdown as well as 57 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, but he came through when it mattered most. 

His orchestration of four different fourth quarter scoring drives was the difference in the game, with his poise and maturity shining through. 

“I told our team last night that this has probably been the year I’m most proud of because of how much we fight and how hard we fight,” Wilkins said. “There hasn’t been one game this year that we’ve let up. We knew what was at stake, so we just stayed the course and trusted the process.” 

All that remains for ASU now is its bowl game, which will likely take place in about a month. Saturday’s victory did little to improve their standings for bowl contention, but it did bar the rival Wildcats from any postseason competition as they only managed five wins, one short of the required six for bowl eligibility. 

As Arizona State departs Tucson, Territorial Cup in hand and heads held high, a sense of finality has washed over the team. While their season may not have ended the way they wanted, there remains a sense of pride in reminding your rivals who controls the state of Arizona. 

“This is what makes college football unique,” Edwards said. “There are rivalry games that go down from generation to generation to generation, and kids talk about it and moms and grandpas and grandmas talk about it. When you can win one, it’s good. This was the first one I’ve been involved in, and it was a nice win, no doubt about that.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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