2 Points: Momentum Changing Play
3 Points: Play happened in a Sun Devil victory
5 Points: Play resulted in a Sun Devil touchdown
7 Points: Big Play (30+ Yards)
Total: 17 Points
On a chilly October night in Boulder, Colorado, the Arizona State football team nearly suffered a shocking collapse.
The suddenly revitalized Sun Devils brought their 4-1 record into the Rocky Mountain state for a Thursday night showdown against the Colorado Buffaloes, and did not foresee a difficult challenge.
Though the Buffs managed to scrap together a victory over Washington State early on in the season, their 1-4 mark demonstrated a few of the negatives that conference realignment has brought about.
While once a premier program, the Buffaloes have fallen from glory recently and their early struggles since joining the Pac-12 have led some critics to complain that adding teams to a conference doesn't necessarily add prestige.
When the upstart Sun Devils arrived in Boulder, even the most vocal of doubters could have chalked the Colorado game up as an Arizona State victory. Quite simply, Colorado looked hapless on the field, and Todd Graham was building a breakout product down in Tempe.
Coming off of a road victory over California, the Sun Devils proved they could notch a difficult win away from their friendly confines and should have had no problem pulling away from the Buffaloes early.
Despite all the frustration and unrest surrounding the Colorado team, the Buffaloes came out swinging against Arizona State. Perhaps the Buffaloes were tired of answering questions about their hopeless play or the fact that many people see the school turning to basketball ahead of football nowadays. Regardless of what affected the Buffaloes, they came to play.
While the oddsmakers had all but counted Colorado out, the Buffaloes ended the first quarter trailing by just six points. A defense often run ragged and trampled on over their five games suddenly sprang to life.
When the Colorado offense took the field on a mission in the second quarter, thoughts of the 2011 late season failures slowly crept back into the mind of Sun Devil fans.
Surely Arizona State couldn't lose to Colorado, right?
Five minutes into the second quarter, the Buffaloes took their first lead of the night when Tony Jones rushed two yards for a score to make it 7-6.
Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils would come storming back with a beautiful touchdown grab by D.J. Foster soon followed by another touchdown from Marion Grice, but the 20-7 lead wasn't enough to discourage the Buffaloes.
With less than two minutes remaining in the half, things began to unravel for the Sun Devils. Quarterback Jordan Webb drove the Buffaloes down the field and fired a touchdown strike to Nick Kasa to pull Colorado within six yet again.
With less than 30 seconds on the game clock in the first half, the Buffaloes kicked off to Arizona State's Jamal Miles who promptly fumbled the ball allowing Colorado to recover.
As time expired in the first half, Colorado kicker Will Oliver delivered a 36-yard field goal that narrowed the deficit to three points. Halftime felt like an eternity for Sun Devil fans who sat down to watch a relaxing victory and ended up viewing an improbable battle.
Even though the Sun Devils found themselves in the midst of a rebuilding season, they could not fathom losing to a Colorado squad that lacked the depth to hang with most opponents for more than a half of play.
When the teams returned to the field for the second half, Arizona State was in desperate need of a spark. After fumbling a kickoff at the end of the first half, the likely plug to that spark found himself on the sidelines. Coach Graham elected to go with Rashad Ross to return the Colorado kick instead of the electrifying Jamal Miles.
The Buffaloes targeted Ross on the kickoff and the Arizona State return man received the kick about two yards deep in the end zone.
The second half clock began to wind as Ross darted out toward the right side of the field where he had a wall of blockers positioned to attack the Colorado coverage unit.
Ross began to pick up speed around the 15-yard line as he slipped past two Buffalo tacklers who over pursued the play. Ross then cut right in the direction of the Colorado sidelines where a significant amount of human traffic still stood.
Fortunately, the Sun Devil blockers appeared to outnumber the Buffaloes and Ross found his stride quickly. Ross' angle towards the sideline allowed him to sprint right past two more Buffalo tacklers and the wide receiver turned his return into a footrace.
By the time Ross reached the 50-yard line, he looked like a swift-moving gazelle racing across an empty patch of greenery. Ross had one man to beat, the kicker, and still had another blocker out in front of him ready to scare off any final challenges.
The Sun Devil returner outran everyone en route to a touchdown and crossed the goal line after only ten seconds had elapsed off the game clock. When House of Sparky hand-timed Ross's return, we clocked his 102-yard run at just 11.4 seconds.
The blazing speed Ross displayed on his return wiped out any momentum the Buffaloes had coming out of the break as the Sun Devils dominated from that point forward.
The Sun Devils outscored the Buffaloes a resounding 31-0 in the second half and hung a 50 spot up on the scoreboard in Boulder. Ross's return is undoubtedly the point at which tide of the game turned and helped the Sun Devils to their fifth triumph of the season.
After Arizona State had its fan base holding their collective breath heading into halftime, Rashad Ross allowed the Sun Devils to breathe a sigh of relief as they took command of their third conference win.
For a complete list of our "12 Plays of Christmas" countdown, click here