Play No. 1: Robert Nelson intercepts a Matt Scott pass on the potentially game-tying drive and returns the ball 66 yards to set up an Arizona State touchdown
2 Points: Momentum changing play
4 Points: Play led to a Sun Devil touchdown
7 Points: Big Play (30+ Yards)
8 Points: Play happened in the 4th quarter of a Sun Devil victory
10 Points: Play led to the Territorial Cup Victory
Total: 31 Points
When Arizona State needed offense, Marion Grice delivered "The Run, Part II".
When the Sun Devils needed a big play, Kevin Ayers came up with "The Block".
Finally, when the maroon and gold needed to protect the lead, Robert Nelson reeled in "The Interception."
Over the past 12 days, House of Sparky has relived the best and brightest parts of the Sun Devil season through our "12 Days of Christmas" countdown. From Will Sutton's thrilling forced fumble in the Oregon game, to Brandon Magee's heroic return to the field against Northern Arizona, Sun Devil fans have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
Regardless of the 7-5 record that left Arizona State a few victories short of a Rose Bowl bid, 2012 was a decidedly upbeat year in Sun Devil country.
Over one year ago, the Sun Devils agreed to shock the culture in the football program and commit to a different style of play. When Todd Graham was hired as coach, the new head honcho preached about an upcoming era of high-octane football and disciplined principles unseen in the valley for a long period of time.
Graham believed the Sun Devils could be great again, and the Arizona State players jumped right on board.
Off the field, players like Cameron Marshall and Brandon Magee helped lead a revival and championed Graham's causes during the offseason. On the field, the likes of Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster exploded onto the season and made the Sun Devils relevant again.
While some fans wrote the season off as nothing more than a rebuilding year, Arizona State churned out an entertaining product that achieved tangible success in the form of bowl eligibility.
Despite notching that coveted sixth victory, the Sun Devils still lacked a defining victory that revealed the team's true character. With one game left remaining, the maroon and gold had a choice: Win and prove you're for real or lose and try again next year.
Enter the Arizona Wildcats.
When the Sun Devils traversed south to Tucson, they encountered their best opportunity yet to put a stamp on their season.
With all the excitement and hype surrounding the Territorial Cup game, the Sun Devils surprised everyone with three quarters of listless play. For the first 45 minutes of the game, Arizona State struggled to find any rhythm and gave fans reasons to investigate the best places to hibernate in the winter.
Facing a 10-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils decided to go to work. First, Jon Mora drilled a 39-yard field goal to pull the gang within seven. Then, Keelan Johnson came up with an outstanding strip of Matt Scott to give the Sun Devils new life. Suddenly, after five Marion Grice rushes, the score was tied.
On the next possession, the Sun Devil defense forced a three-and-out and the Wildcats had to punt. Just like he rehearsed it, Kevin Ayers came up with "The Block." One play later, Cameron Marshall gave the Sun Devils an improbable fourth quarter lead and the sound of pins dropping to the floor was audible in Tucson.
The Sun Devils led 34-27, but the Wildcats would get the ball back with 5:27 remaining. When Scott and the Wildcats took the field, they had the crowd on their side in their attempt to tie the game.
Tucson was rocking after Scott completed a 16-yard pass to Johnny Jackson on the first play of the drive. A few plays later, the Wildcats converted a third and eight situation that left pits in the stomachs of Sun Devils everywhere.
Arizona marched into Sun Devil territory, but the Cats were met by foes such as Davon Coleman and Carl Bradford on rushing attempts that forced them into a passing situation.
On third and six from the 44, Scott's pass to Johnny Jackson fell incomplete and time stood still. With less than three minutes remaining, Arizona had to convert on fourth down to keep the game alive.
On fourth down and six, the Wildcats set up in a spread formation with two receivers split wide on each side of the field. Quarterback Matt Scott aligned in the shotgun with a running back on his left.
At the snap of ball, the receivers shot down the field toward the first down marker. Scott had a significant amount of time to throw the football, but released quickly when he saw receiver Garic Wharton break open past the 40-yard line.
Wharton began the play as the end man on the right side of the formation, and cut in toward the hash marks after about three steps. The wideout saw single coverage from Osahon Irabor, and created nice separation in his route.
If Wharton caught Scott's pass, the receiver had a decent chunk of space in the middle of the field to make a play. But instead of hitting Wharton in stride, Scott's pass sailed a bit high and wide and tipped off of his receiver's outstretched hands.
The ball floated in the air just long enough for the Sun Devils to put an exclamation point on their season. In less than a couple of seconds, the tide had turned yet again in the Duel in the Desert and Arizona State was the beneficiary.
A pass that should have been completed landed in the hands of Sun Devil Robert Nelson, who came up with the play of the season. Nelson intercepted Scott's pass at his own 32-yard line, but he knew his work was not yet finished.
Nelson darted straight for the left sideline to avoid four Wildcats in pursuit and to use a wall of Sun Devil blockers set up just beyond midfield. The Arizona State defensive line came to Nelson's rescue, and escorted him down the sideline. Nelson's all-out sprint for the goal line encountered a minor hiccup around the Wildcat 30-yard line, but the Sun Devil safety would not be deterred in his quest for the end zone just yet.
Nelson deked a cut back toward the middle of the field and continued along the left sideline. He waited for Davon Coleman to lay one more block before attempting to avoid one final tackle. At the eight-yard line, Nelson ducked and a Wildcat tackler soared over his head in incredible fashion. Finally, two Wildcats jumped on Nelson's back to bring down the determined ball carrier.
Moments earlier, Matt Scott and his Arizona teammates appeared ready to take back control with a game-tying drive. On one errant pass, Robert Nelson made the Wildcats pay in brutal form as his interception led the Sun Devils to an amazing comeback victory.
On the biggest stage, Robert Nelson delivered the biggest play. That's why "The Interception" is our Top Play of the 2012 season.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
For a complete breakdown of our "12 Plays of Christmas" countdown, click here