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ASU Football: Sun Devils' comeback bid falls short, lose Territorial Cup 42-35

ASU lost the Duel in the Desert for the first time since 2011.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It delivered the drama that only the Territorial Cup can.

With 2:56 left in the game, ASU took the ball, down by seven with a chance to tie the game. Mike Bercovici was in at quarterback, having replaced Taylor Kelly in the third quarter. ASU returned the punt and looked up with the end zone 57 yards away.

Considering all the drama surrounding the state's best rivalry, considering Arizona led by 14 in the fourth quarter, considering Stanford eliminated UCLA from the Pac-12 South picture, considering the winner would be the division champion, no one would be surprised it ASU completed the comeback and at least sent the game to overtime.

It didn't happen. Bercovici's fourth-down pass to Jaelen Strong from the Arizona 40-yard line fell incomplete and Arizona (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) claimed the Territorial Cup for the first time since 2011.

"At the end of the day, it's my job to put the ball in a spot where he can catch it," Bercovici said. "It's on us as an offense. We know that we're confident in this situations."

But when Bercovici shared what he felt it was like when the game over, it was a simple answer.

"That sucked," he said. "It should never be this way."

Bercovici came into the game late in the third quarter with his team down 35-21. Coach Todd Graham said he made the move trying to provide a spark. Whether or not it did is up for interpretation. Kelly finished 13-of-22 for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Bercovici went 14 -of-22 for 123 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Graham said the killer was a drive in the first quarter when ASU (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) was unable to convert. It worked its way to the Wildcat 3-yard line on a first-and-goal situation and could not score on four consecutive run plays, turning it over on downs.

"We get the ball on the 1-inch line and can't score," Graham said. "That really hurt."

Graham also said the turnover battle would be key to victory and ASU would not win unless it had a positive turnover differential, not even. ASU and Arizona each forced two turnovers.

"At the end of the day, we had our chances and couldn't get it done," Graham said.

ASU had no answer for Arizona's run game, specifically Nick Wilson. The freshman running back carried the ball 24 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns, including breaking free for a 72-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

As for the signal caller, freshman quarterback Anu Solomon threw the ball 21 times, completing 15 of them for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

It certainly didn't help the Sun Devils that they lost two of their best defensive players. Safety Jordan Simone was a game-time decision to not play because of an injury and linebacker Viliami Moeakiola left the game with an injury. He was on crutches after the game.

"Jordan and his leadership, it's something totally different," safety Damarious Randall said.

Randall then went on to credit the work of backup James Johnson who fished with five tackles including a bone-crushing sack of Solomon in the first quarter.

ASU sacked Solomon four times on the afternoon. Arizona got to the two ASU quarterbacks for a combined seven sacks.

Two of those sacks came from Scooby Wright, who seemed unstoppable all day. The sophomore linebacker who was snubbed as a Butkus finalist for nation's best linebacker had the two sacks, five tackles-for-loss and 13 total tackles. He also forced a fumble, his nation-leading sixth of the season.

The loss sent ASU to a 9-3 record on the season, one game short of the Pac-12 South title. A win against Arizona would have sent ASU to the Pac-12 title game for the second straight season.

Instead, Arizona will fly to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. for a date with the Oregon Ducks on Dec. 5.

"We said our program would compete for championships," Graham said. "And we were seven points short today."