Top Play No. 2: Kevin Ayers' blocked punt deep in Wildcat territory allows the Sun Devils to take a 34-27 lead that they would never relinquish.
2 Points: Momentum changing play
4 Points: Play led to a Sun Devil touchdown
8 Points: Play happened in the 4th quarter of a Sun Devil victory
10 Points: Play led to the Territorial Cup victory
Total Points: 24 Points
If offense wins games, and defense wins championships, what's left for special teams? Lately, the less heralded third phase of football has played quite a significant role in winning the Sun Devils the Territorial Cup rivalry games.
In 2010, James Brooks became a folk-hero at Arizona State after he blocked two extra point attempts that saved the Territorial Cup for the upset-minded Sun Devils. With the score tied at 20 and the Wildcats needing to kick an extra point to secure a victory, Brooks block gave the Sun Devils the momentum they needed heading into overtime. When Brooks blocked a game-tying extra point effort in overtime, the Sun Devils shocked the Wildcats in thrilling fashion and the blocks made Brooks an Arizona State icon.
This year, the Sun Devil victory in Tucson became the stuff of legend once again after an unbelievable comeback effort took place that epitomizes the history of this storied rivalry.
Trailing 27-17 heading into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had a chance to ruin the Sun Devils' upset bid yet again. Instead, Arizona State reeled off its best quarter of the season en route to an incredible 41-34 victory that helped punctuate Todd Graham's first season at the helm.
How did the Sun Devils manage to escape Tucson with a victory? Kevin Ayers decided to channel his inner James Brooks.
After Jon Mora's 39-yard field goal brought the Sun Devils within seven points, Keelan Johnson came up with the most important defensive play of the year when he stripped Wildcat quarterback Matt Scott inside the Arizona State red zone. The Wildcats had a chance to ice the game with a touchdown, but that's not how these rivalry games work out.
Sun Devil workhorse Marion Grice carried the football on five of the next six Arizona State plays before punching it into the end zone to tie the game.
Remarkably, Arizona State had stunned the Wildcats and turned the Territorial Cup into an eight-minute game. After 54 minutes, the two teams were deadlocked at 27 and the Sun Devils had restored every bit of lost hope on Grice's touchdown run.
With the game hanging in the balance, the Wildcats took over possession at their own 25-yard line. All season long, coach Rich Rodriguez had worked on making the Wildcat offense a finely tuned machine built to grind out touchdowns in these late game situations. Arizona was in its comfort zone when it had the football, and quarterback Matt Scott brought his teammates out for what could have been the go-ahead drive.
On first down and 10, Scott put the ball in the hands of Ka'Deem Carey on a short pass, but Sun Devil captain Brandon Magee swallowed up the nation's leading rusher behind the line of scrimmage for a one-yard loss.
On second and 11, the Wildcats again turned to Carey, but this time through the ground game and the running back was met behind the line of scrimmage by a brigade of Sun Devils including Carl Bradford and Chris Young.
Third and 15 didn't fare much better for the University of Arizona when Scott's pass intended for David Richards fell incomplete.
Suddenly, a Wildcat offense built to engineer game-changing drives had come up short at the worst possible time. A three-and-out meant the thriving Sun Devil offense would take over possession with under six minutes to play.
Holding the ball on their own 20-yard line, Arizona was forced to punt the football and place hope in its defense.
Dugandzic aligned right in front of his own goal line as he prepared to boot the ball away from a "tight" formation.
When teams that punt out of a spread formation are backed up on their own end of the field, they often elect to punt the football out of a tighter formation to give their punter added protection.
With such a potent offense, the Wildcats rarely asked Dugandzic's blockers to use this formation because the Arizona offense had been so efficient all season.
The Sun Devil defensive front featured nine players along the line of scrimmage, which signaled a kick-block scheme was called. Though the Sun Devils overloaded the formation to the left side of the punter, the Wildcats left two of their three punt protectors on Dugandzic's right side.
At the snap of the football, a flood of Sun Devil players broke through the protection and left the three Wildcat punt protectors outmanned in front of Dugandzic. The Wildcats use a "rugby style" punt, and Dugandzic caught the ball and shuffled up and to his right to allow the protectors on his right to pick up the likeliest punt blockers.
Amazingly, the Wildcats left Sun Devil Kevin Ayers unblocked on the left side of the formation and Ayers raced up the field practically untouched.
When Dugandzic dropped the football to his foot, Ayers timed his dive perfectly and soared right in front of the football as Dugandzic kicked it. Despite having to come from the opposite side of the formation, Ayers executed a speedy rush that resulted in a blocked punt.
A Wildcat lineman fell on the football at the eight-yard line, but the damage had been done. Kevin Ayers came up with the special teams play of the year that provides the spark in rivalry games like the Territorial Cup.
On the very next play from scrimmage, a defeated Wildcat defense surrendered a touchdown run to Cameron Marshall and the Sun Devils seized control of the game.
Two years ago, James Brooks blocked two extra points to seal a Sun Devil victory. This year, Kevin Ayers blocked a punt that gave the Sun Devils a lead they would not relinquish.
For a complete breakdown of our "12 Plays of Christmas" countdown, click here