Round of 8
Region 1: Territorial Cup
No. 3 "Keelan Johnson's Forced Fumble" vs. No. 5 "Robert Nelson's Interception Return"
The Case for "Keelan Johnson's Forced Fumble": In terms of timing, this Keelan Johnson's forced fumble might be Arizona State's greatest defensive play in the 21st century. The Sun Devils desperately needed a turnover with the clock in the final nine minutes and the Wildcats threatening to build their lead to two touchdown just inside the redzone. And no sooner than ESPN's shoddy play-by-play man said that Arizona State needs "to make a play and take the ball away," that's exactly what Johnson did.
Even factoring in Matt Scott's sheer stupidity, Johnson's strip tackle in itself was a thing of beauty. Johnson engaged Scott while the quarterback was leaping in the air but still had the piece of mind to keep him upright in order to go for the strip. And just before Scott's knee was set to hit the ground, Johnson yanked with all his weight and forced the ball loose.
The rest, well, is history. The momentum was firmly in the Sun Devils corner thanks to Johnson's turnover and they never relinquished it, scoring three unanswered touchdowns before the Wildcats could put up a garbage time score. Although most will remember Marion Grice being the MVP of this game, he's not in the position to do what he did if it wasn't for Johnson's heroics. -Cody Ulm
The case for "Robert Nelson's Interception Return": Plain and simple, Robert Nelson's interception locked up Arizona State's signature win. Sure, you might say that there's a good chance they win anyways if the ball hits the ground since it was fourth and six. But a plain old turnover on downs wasn't good enough for Nelson and nor should it be for anyone else in a rivalry game of this magnitude.
Nelson's awareness and lightning-quick reaction allowed him to return a tipped ball 66 yards to set up Michael Eubank's one-yard dagger of a touchdown. More than anything, fans have to appreciate the fight Nelson showed. Instead of just playing it safe and kneeling after the pick, Nelson went for the throat, breaking at least three tackles before he was double-teamed to the ground. And Nelson's boldness was rewarded with the ultimate snapshot of a dumbfounded Arizona crowd (skip to 00:36 seconds in the video below to soak it in for yourself). Did I mention this all occurred in his first career start?
In the end, I think we can all agree that Nelson's interception return was when Sun Devil nation collectively came to the realization that we were actually going to pull this one out. And for that, he deserves to move on to the next round.-Cody Ulm