By Scottie Bricker
UA enjoys 'Devil'-ish feast in Tempe
"The game of football just means so much to me and to think that it could possibly be over is hard to handle," said Fipp, whose interception with just over a minute to play sealed the 28-16 victory. "At the same time it's the greatest moment of my life. To be a part of a team that fought so hard, I am just so proud of all the guys on this team."
Fear not. The season may go on.
After an unnerving and crazy game as only the Wildcats and Sun Devils can play, Arizona put themselves in a position to play in its first postseason game since the 1994 Freedom Bowl. An invitation to the Tucson-based Insight.com Bowl, formerly the Copper Bowl, could come as early as today.
Arizona head coach Dick Tomey said his team always believed they could be in this position, despite wide-spread criticism.
"This is a team full of winners," he said. "We all get sick and tired of people telling us we're not. This team believes in what everybody else wouldn't."
Neither the Arizona offense or defense looked like a 5-5 team Friday, the offense racked up 28 points by halftime and the defense held the conference's third-leading offense to just 277 yards and forced four turnovers.
Sophomore linebacker Marcus Bell led the team with 12 tackles and returned a fumble 35 yards. Seniors Joe Salave'a and Chester Burnett also had huge final games against the Sun Devils.
Salave'a had nine tackles, including 3.5 sacks and Burnett had eight tackles and one interception. But his heads up play picking up the loose ball after ASU blocked a Chris Palic punt and racing 21 yards upfield for a first down at the 30-yard line, extinguished whatever fire ASU had left.
The rest of the trick plays were scripted by Tomey's staff.
Arizona jumped to a 21-0 lead, thanks in part to a bit of deception that took the Sun Devils by surprise.
On third and goal from the ASU eight-yard line, sophomore Keith Smith lined up in the tailback position while quarterback Ortege Jenkins went in motion from under center to the near side. Center Rusty James snapped the ball to Smith who then found tight end Paul Shields over the middle in the endzone.
The drive was keyed by a double pass on the first play from scrimmage, as Smith took a lateral from Jenkins and hit tight end Brandon Manumaleuna for 45 yards to the ASU 10-yard line. The catch was Manumaleuna'a first of the year.
Arizona opened the scoring on a 37-yard strike from redshirt freshman Jenkins to senior Rodney Williams with 6:22 left in the first quarter. The pair hooked up on a 37-yard pass play four plays earlier, to move the Wildcats into Sun Devil territory. Jenkins finished the night 7 of 19 passing for 192 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Williams caught three balls for 102 yards and the one score.
Jenkins' three touchdowns set a Pacific 10 Conference record for touchdown passes by a freshman at 19, eclipsing the old mark held by UCLA's Tommy Maddox. The two touchdowns scored by Arizona were the first against ASU in the first quarter all season long.
Arizona put its third touchdown on the board, 5:16 into the second quarter on a 40-yard strike from Jenkins to sophomore wideout Dennis Northcutt. The drive was setup when UA cornerback Chris McAlister blocked an ASU punt, giving the Wildcats the ball at the ASU 46-yard line. Arizona State backup quarterback Steve Campbell found Ricky Boyer in the corner of the endzone from 17 yards out to bring the Sun Devils to within 14 points.
But with just 1:05 left in the half, Arizona capitalized on one of the craziest plays in the history of this storied series. On a third-and-nine from the ASU 29-yard line, Sun Devil safety Mitchell Freedman broke through the Arizona offensive line before the snap. Freedman apparently made no contact with center James and no official blew his whistle to stop the play, so Jenkins signaled Brad Brennan to go deep. Jenkins and Brennan were seemingly the only two players aware the play was live, and Brennan caught his sixth touchdown of the year.
"I knew it was a free play and I didn't hear the whistle so I told Brad to just go," Jenkins said. "You have to take advantage of plays like that."
ASU added a Robert Nycz 46-yard field goal late in the third quarter and a J.R. Redmond eight-yard touchdown run early in the fourth to pull to within 12 points, but late interceptions by Chester Burnett and Fipp ended any comeback.