Josh Pollack missed a 45-yard field goal with 11 seconds left, capping an epic collapse by the Arizona Wildcats, who blew a 19-point fourth-quarter lead en route to a 41-40 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Win the win, ASU keeps the Territorial Cup and ends UA’s season, as the Wildcats (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12) fall a win short of bowl eligibility.
This rivalry series is known to make-or-break kickers’ legacies, but don’t blame Pollack for the loss.
The Sun Devils’ comeback was aided by two late turnovers by Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor, who had played tremendously up to that point.
After ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins scrambled for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 40-32 with 6:36 left, Tate was intercepted on a badly overthrown ball near midfield by Aashari Crosswell, who returned it to the UA 22 with 4:59 left.
Brandon Ruiz made a 39-yard field goal to trim ASU’s deficit to 40-35 with 3:33 left, then Taylor, who rushed for 144 yards, fumbled deep in UA territory, which led to a 22-yard go-ahead touchdown by Eno Benjamin with three minutes to play.
Tate, who finished 21 for 39 for 282 yards and three touchdowns, connected with Shawn Poindexter and Stanley Berryhill III on key third downs, as UA pushed into Sun Devil territory in the final moments. Tate also overthrew a pair of would-be TDs deep down the field, leaving the game up to UA’s kickers.
“The biggest issue was the two turnovers on (our) side of the 50,” said UA coach Kevin Sumlin. “Even with that, and the field position, and the time that we used to go the length of the field, those two turnovers at the end of our side of the field cost us more than anything else from a strategy standpoint.”
Arizona could have inserted the strong-legged Lucas Havrisik for the game-winner, but Pollack was 4 for 4 on the day. The fifth-year senior’s kick fluttered wide right and the Wildcats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Arizona outgained ASU 520-401 and had thoroughly dominated up until the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats came out sharp after a pregame scuffle, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The offense scored on its first two drives, while the defense got two stops, thanks to some menacing play by the defensive line, which was living in the backfield all game.
Pollack drilled a 29-yard field goal after Tate connected with Poindexter for 47 yards, then Tate tossed a dart over the middle to Tony Ellison for a 28-yard score.
Wilkins, who was 18 for 31 for 265 yards, responded by delivering a 58-yard touchdown strike over the middle to Brandon Aiyuk.
Arizona pinned ASU on its next possession and nearly scored a defensive touchdown. Benjamin was stripped by Chacho Ulloa and the ball bounced to Troy Young, who tried to pick it up for a scoop-and-score, but he bobbled it and ASU recovered, thwarting disaster but only momentarily.
The Sun Devils’ ensuing punt was returned by an elusive Shun Brown to the ASU 28 and Pollack made a 23-yard field goal to make it 13-7 with 10:18 left in the second quarter.
Tate then found Poindexter on a scramble drill for a 23-yard touchdown to put UA up 19-7 (the two-point conversion attempt, a rollout by Tate, was unsuccessful). Poindexter his entire 6-foot-5 frame to come down with a jump ball over an ASU DB. It was his 11th touchdown catch of the season, tying a school record. The senior had six catches for 99 yards.
ASU converted on third-and-10 on its next drive, before Benjamin plowed for a 10-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 19-14 with 1:27 left in the half.
Gary Brightwell returned the kickoff to the UA 38, then Tate dumped a short pass to Brown who dashed for 26 yards to the ASU 36. Tate drew an unnecessary roughness penalty after a negative-yard rush, pushing Arizona up to the ASU 24.
Tate nearly scampered for a touchdown, but Dasmond Tautalatasi made a shoe-string tackle to set up a 36-yard field goal. Pollack buried it to extend UA’s lead to 22-14 as the second quarter expired.
The Wildcats outgained ASU 308-163 in the first half, but left some points on the board by settling for three field goals — two in the red zone — and failing a two-point conversion.
However, Arizona earned two points in a different fashion to begin the third quarter when PJ Johnson swallowed up Benjamin in the end zone for a safety after a terrific punt by Dylan Klumph pinned ASU deep in its own territory.
Taylor returned the ensuing free kick 66 yards to the ASU 22, and Pollack tacked on a 40-yard field goal, his career-high fourth make of the game, to put UA up 27-14 early in the third quarter, as the Wildcats failed to capitalize on a chance to blow the game open.
Taking advantage of it, Wilkins connected with N’Keal Harry for 38 yards on a wheel route to put ASU deep in Arizona territory, then Benjamin waltzed in for a 14-yard touchdown to bring the Devils within six.
Arizona responded with an easy four-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 35-yard scamper by Brightwell, who went untouched into the end zone along the far sideline.
Arizona’s defense forced a three-and-out, then Tate ran for a big first down in ASU territory on third-and-long to keep the offense on the field.
After a couple chunk plays by Taylor, Tate threw a jump pass over the middle to Ellison for an eight-yard touchdown, extending UA’s lead to 40-21.
ASU settled for a field goal on its next drive to bring the game within two scores, and its defense got a stop with nine minutes left after a bevy of Taylor runs, the product of some conservative playcalling.
What happened from there personifies why the Territorial Cup has come to be one of the wackiest rivalries in college football. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they were the ones on the losing end of an improbable comeback.
Arizona’s win probability was 97.5 percent at the start of the fourth quarter, per ESPN.
“It’s college football,” said linebacker Colin Schooler, who recorded a season-low five tackles. “Anything can happen at any moment. We need to take care of the ball better on both sides obviously. There were two balls on the ground that the defense could have gotten this game that we didn’t, and if we get those, that’s a huge momentum swing and maybe the end is a little different.”