TEMPE, Ariz. — Leading by four and driving late in the first half, there was a glimmer of hope for the Arizona Wildcats following a long stretch full of struggles.
And then Khalil Tate threw the first of three interceptions in his final college game, and Arizona quickly returned to the doldrums of the past two months.
ASU scored on four of its next five possessions, running past Arizona 24-14 on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium. The win gives the Sun Devils the Territorial Cup for a third straight year and sixth time in the past eight seasons.
“The thing I’m sad about is for the seniors, the way things played out and that they’re going,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into what these guys do. People see the three and a half hours on Saturday, but it’s all the work they put in (during the week). Nobody in there is happy right now. There are a lot of people in that room who care deeply about this football team, coaches and players.”
The Wildcats (4-8, 2-7 Pac-12) lost their seventh straight game thanks to a lot of the usual mistakes: poor tackling, woeful special teams, inefficient red zone play, costly turnovers and listless play after halftime. Arizona was outscored 145-64 in the second half during the losing streak, including 74-19 in the third quarter.
Tate started and went the whole way, throwing for 228 yards on 22-of-38 passing with two touchdowns and three picks, his first career three-interception game. Yet when he found Jamarye Joiner for a 48-yard TD pass midway through the second quarter, giving the UA a 7-3 lead, it genuinely looked like Arizona had a chance to win.
It had held ASU (7-5, 4-5) to three points and just over 100 yards late into the first half. Tate was running with confidence—he had 78 yards on 11 carries, including a 29-yarder in the first quarter—and throwing it well, getting Arizona to the ASU 24 with just over two minutes left before halftime.
Then Tate threw it directly to ASU’s Jack Jones, starting a snowball that would turn into an avalanche of Sun Devil scoring.
“It was a miscommunication, the receiver got a different call than I did,” Tate said.
ASU got a 23-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to cut the deficit to 7-6, then went ahead 5:30 into the third quarter on an 11-play drive that was all runs. Eno Benjamin scored form six yards out, the first of his two TD runs, to make it 13-7.
The drive saw the Wildcats miss several tackles, with Kylan Wilborn completely whiffing on a sack attempt when ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels rolled right into him.
Tate threw his second interception on Wildcats’ first possession of the second half, again to Jack Jones, then after getting the ball back on a 3-and-out his pass over the middle went off Bam Smith’s hands and into those of ASU linebacker Merlin Robertson.
Benjamin would score from a yard out seven plays later, with Daniels scoring on a two-point run to make it 21-7 with 1:20 left in the third.
Arizona got inside ASU’s 10-yard on its next drive but couldn’t do anything once it got there, settling for a 26-yard field goal try from Lucas Havrisik that he’d miss wide right.
Havrisik also missed from 47 yards out midway through the first quarter, making him 10 for 17 for the season.
Down 24-7, Arizona marched downfield during garbage time and ended ASU’s 21-0 run with a 4-yard TD pass from Tate to Joiner with 4:48 left.
Joiner was Arizona’s lone offensive bright spot with seven catches for 140 yards, both career highs, and two TDs. The converted quarterback, who picked UA over ASU, finished the season as Arizona’s leader in receiving yards (552) and TD catches (four).
“It took a lot of preparation during the week just to be on the same page as the quarterback,” Joiner said.
Sumlin’s seat has been warming by the week since the Wildcats started 4-1 and were alone in first place in the Pac-12 South. Arizona is now 9-15 in his two seasons, though athletic director Dave Heeke confirmed after the game Sumlin would return in 2020.
“I know the fans are frustrated,” Sumlin said. “Believe me, we’re frustrated.”