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ASU vs. Arizona: The 5 (or so) Best Plays in Duel in the Desert History

We take a look at the five most amazing plays in the history of this storied and heated rivalry

(Photo: ASU)

Yesterday, Cory Williams gave you a look at the five greatest games in the fierce rivalry between Arizona State and Arizona.

Today, we present our picks for the five greatest plays that the series has ever seen. Some carried with them major significance, some were simply amazing feats on the field, and one was an unmatched combination of the two.

The "Newer" Catch - 2007

Coming into 2007's game at 9-2 and ranked No. 13 in the nation, ASU was looking to beat the Wildcats for a third straight time and secure a Fiesta Bowl berth in the process.

Like most match-ups, it was a tightly contested affair, and the game was tied at seven late in the first half. With a first and 10 at the Arizona 32, quarterback Rudy Carpenter dropped back to pass.

Let's let him tell the rest.

"We were just running four verticals, and they were running a Cover 2," Carpenter told me on the latest Speak of the Devils podcast. "It was obviously, a much, much better catch than it was a throw. As I dropped back, I saw Chris late out of the corner of my eye. I felt like I had pressure, so I just got it out of my hand really quick and that's what caused it to be not as accurate."


The unbelievable, leaping, twisting, finger tip catch by Chris McGaha give the Sun Devils the ball at the Wildcat one-yard line. The drive would result in a field goal to give ASU a 10-7 lead, and the Sun Devils would hold that advantage for the rest of the game in a 20-17 win.

The Run - 1992

Heading into the Duel in the Desert down in Tucson, ASU stood at 5-5, and looked on their way to a losing season. The Sun Devils trailed 6-0 to the Wildcats as the fourth quarter began, but the game wasn't that close. The Wildcats held a significant 262 to 97 advantage in total offense, and the ASU ground game was averaging a paltry 1.6 yards-per-carry against the nation's top ranked run defense.

ASU quarterback Grady Benton hit Kevin Snyder for a first down on the quarter's second play, and the Sun Devils now had a first and 10 at their 49-yard line.

On the next play, Kevin Galbreath took the handoff, ran right, and embarked upon a trip towards the end zone and Sun Devil immortality...

The ASU defense would make that scoring run hold up, and the Sun Devils escaped Tucson with the miraculous 7-6 win.

The Return - 2005

With 8:12 left in the game, the Wildcats held a 20-12 lead over the Sun Devils in Tempe, and the Sun Devils needed a spark in the worst way.

Arizona faced a fourth and seven from their 18-yard line and ASU's sensational return man Terry Richardson was back deep to receive. The kick sailed deep...a little too deep, as it was a bit past the Wildcat coverage.

Richardson caught the kick, veered left and swung back a bit to avoid a tackle. Getting a block to seal the backside pursuit, he turned up the sideline and kicked in the afterburner. At the Wildcat 25-yard line, only the punter remained, and he sure as hell wasn't going to stop Richardson, who sped passed him for the remarkable touchdown.

Rudy Carpenter then found Zach Miller for the game-tying two-point conversion, and the momentum was all in ASU's favor.

The Sun Devils would then go on to win the game on Jesse Ainsworth's chip shot field goal with just nine seconds left.

The Block Party - 2010 (OK, this is really two plays)


That game-tying score with just 27 seconds left in regulation seemed to put the dagger into ASU's chances of pulling off the road upset over Arizona in 2010. All that remained was the formality of the extra point. It was all but over.

But no one told James Brooks.

"In the midst of the game, someone had to make a play, with our backs against the wall," said the soon-to-be Sun Devil legend. "It was so fast, I didn't really think about it."

The snap...the hold...the kick...the jump...

"We knew all week that he had been struggling and that the trajectory of the kicks were kind of low," Brooks told me on this week's Speak of the Devils podcast. "It was a crazy experience and a crazy game,"

That in itself was incredible and an instant classic. But he wasn't done.

Fast forward to the second overtime. Arizona has scored a touchdown to close the gap to 30-29. Just an extra point stands in the way of sending this thriller into a third extra period.

Not gonna happen.

Sometimes, there are no words...

The Catch - 1975

As if there was any doubt as to which play would top this list.

Not only is John Jefferson's immortal play a jaw-dropping display in it's own right, but the significance of the game in what was arguably the most successful season in Sun Devil history makes it stand alone.

The Frank Kush-led Sun Devils were 10-0 and ranked No. 8 in the nation. They hosted the annual battle with Arizona, who are 9-1 at the time and ranked 12th. What's on the line? How about state bragging rights, the WAC championship and a Fiesta Bowl berth.

Oh, is that all?

The Wildcats took an early 14-3 lead in the game, but the Sun Devils had the ball very late in the first half at the Arizona eight-yard line.

ASU dialed up a pass play to take a shot at the end zone. Quarterback Dennis Sproul dropped back, found Jefferson running a slant to the right, and fired off a pass.

The ball sailed wide, seemingly destined for an incompletion. But then...

Jefferson laid out in a full-extension dive, got a hold of the ball, secured it, and fell into the endzone and into immortality.

The touchdown cut the Wildcat lead to 14-10 at the half and gave ASU much needed momentum. They outplayed their hated rivals in the second half, and Sproul's touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Sun Devils an incredible win and a date with Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. In that game, ASU won to cap the 12-0 record and a final No. 2 national ranking, the best in school history.

Just Missed the Cut...

No need to introduce this one:

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