Next week, House of Sparky will begin our "#SunDevilMoments" tournament, featuring the 16 best moments from the athletic season. This week we will introduce all 16 seeds, then reveal our match-ups where you, the reader, will vote on what was the ASU athletics Moment of the Year.
During the 2015-16 season, any Sun Devils football fan could tell you how head coach Todd Graham proclaimed his squad was the most talented unit he had possessed since arriving in Tempe.
However, by the time ASU was hosting the Oregon Ducks halfway through its campaign in late October, the team's record didn't suggest it was Graham's best group yet. Instead, the Sun Devils entered the Thursday night contest 4-3, coming off a bye week following their 34-18 road loss against then-No. 4 ranked Utah.
Uncertainty for the future of the season loomed, and taking on a potent Ducks offense only added to it. But on that night, ASU fans were able to revel in what was a glimpse of their team's offense playing at near-maximized potential, with its star backfield duo at the very center of its production.
Sophomore running backs Demario Richard (19 rushes, 135 yards, TD) and Kalen Ballage (12 rushes, 127 yards) combined for 262 of the Sun Devils' 344 rushing yards against the Ducks. It appeared Oregon had no answer for either player, as they gashed and bashed the Ducks defense, rattling off five-, seven- and 10-yard gains with ease.
For Ballage, his 127 rushing yards set a new career-high.
His most memorable contribution though, came with just under four minutes left in the third quarter when ASU led 31-27. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Ballage ran the ball off-tackle towards the near-side of the field, turned the corner, nearly lost his balance trying to tight-rope the sideline, then regained his footing before flattening Oregon's 6-foot-4 defensive back Tyree Robinson on a 33-yard run.
The play was one of the many examples on the evening which conveyed the potential the Colorado native possesses.
The Sun Devils' drive would stall a couple plays later, and ultimately ASU would fall in triple-overtime, 61-55. Between the fourth quarter and three overtime periods, Ballage (2 rushes, -1 yard) and Richard (3 rushes, 8 yards) only touched the ball a combined five times for seven yards, despite the tandem logging its best joint performance to date.
Entering the 2016 season, Ballage and Richard are expected to lead and carry an inexperienced ASU offense. Showings similar to the one against Oregon will (almost unfairly) be expected, but there's no doubting that the juniors are capable of playing at a high-level consistently. Many believe the pairing of Ballage and Richard will rival past ASU backfield couplings, such as Marion Grice and DJ Foster.
Last season, this belief wasn't able to be realized when the year started, as Ballage missed the first three contests with mononucleosis. This year, Ballage has said he's looking to help the team put the disappointment of last season behind them, and expects to be a focal point of what looks to be a run-oriented offensive scheme.
With that said, exhilarating plays like this one shouldn't be too hard to come by from him if he's able to see the field in full capacity in 2016.
You can watch our No. 14 moment of the ASU athletic year here.