The cheerleaders went wild when Taylor Kelly hit Jamal Miles for the score. (Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE)
Here's game two of our weekly simulation series.
The Sun Devils, emboldened by the maroon crowd, decided to receive the ball against Illinois.
Jamal Miles broke it out to the 45-yard line, but a holding call brought ASU all the way back to their own 12-yard line. After picking up a few first downs on the ground, the Illini dug in and forced a punt.
Nathan Scheelhaase made an immediate impact, running the ball for 24 yards on the first offensive play from scrimmage. With Mike Pennel suspended for the game, Will Sutton stepped up big with a huge third down sack of Scheelhaase, pushing UI just out of field goal range.
After another stalled drive by ASU, Josh Hubner lined up to punt. Strangely, the Illini didn't put a man back to receive, and Hubner proceeded to boot the ball all the way to the Illinois 14-yard line from the ASU 20.
Scheelhaase proceeded to lead an impressive drive before getting knocked out of the game on a hard tackle. In came Reilly O'Toole. On his first pass, O'Toole was picked off by Keelan Johnson.
The Sun Devils worked down the field. Michael Eubank completed a third down screen to Jamal Miles, who ran it for 15 more yards. But the Illini defense is just so stout, and the combination of Eubank and Kelly failed to get the ball in field goal range.
With the first half in the books, the Sun Devils and Illini were somehow tied 0-0.
There were two bright spots in the first half: Cameron Marshall and the ASU defense. Marshall picked up 34 yards on 7 carries while the Devils kept the Illini off the board. Brandon Magee wrapped up four tackles in the center of the field. Taylor Kelly's first half: 2 for 7 for 7 yards and one interception. Terrible.
In the second half, O'Toole came out and marched the Illini all the way to the ASU 38-yard line. On a handoff to wide receiver Spencer Harris, the unthinkable happened: Alden Darby swarmed in and caused a fumble, which was picked up by Steffon Martin for an improbable 56-yard touchdown return. 7-0 Devils.
Illinois got to the ASU 33-yard line and decided to go for it on 4th and 11. In the third quarter. Somehow, O'Toole finds Harris, who redeems himself with a touchdown. 7-7 tie with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Devils punted. Hubner's punt outkicked the coverage, and the Illini ran it back for a touchdown. Heartbreaking. 14-7 Illini with just moments to go in the third.
Just when it felt like all hope was lost, Kelly hit Jamal Miles on a slant route for an 80-yard touchdown. 14-14!
The ASU defense battened down the hatches, forcing Illinois to give the ball back. On a nine play, 64 yard drive, the Devils went down the field with ease to take a 21-14 lead. Cameron Marshall put the ball in the end zone to give ASU the advantage.
With the game on the line, Nathan Scheelhaase came back on the field despite his hamstring injury. In truly heroic fashion, Scheelhaase brought the Illini back, throwing a 27-yard strike to Harris in the corner of the end zone. 21-21 with just 2:06 left in the game.
Time for Taylor Kelly to shine. Underwhelming throughout this matchup, Kelly took the field with a mission: get Cameron Marshall the ball, but still be a threat to connect with the wide receiver corps.
Marshall picked up 24 yards on five carries on the final drive, but Kelly was the star. Serving up a fastball to Kevin Ozier in the flat for a 16 yard gain, finding J.J. Holliday on a slant route for 22, and finally hitting Miles in the end zone for 6. With just :37 seconds left, the Devils were winning 28-21.
And that's how it would end. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles. The Sun Devils win! 2-0 on the fake season. Things get much tougher next week against them Tigers from Mizzou.