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No. 5 Washington vs. ASU: Risky fourth down conversion cements historic victory for Arizona State

With a tremendous upset on the line, the Sun Devils went for it all — and got it.

Washington v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona State Sun Devils (3-3, 2-1 Pac-12) defense held a perennial thousand-yard rusher to just 67 yards. They limited an elite quarterback to just 139 yards through the air and allowed one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country to net just 57 yards.

The offense needed just three yards to cement one of the greatest ASU victories in the past two decades.

With just under two minutes to go and a fourth-and-three from the Washington 37-yard line, sixth-year ASU head coach Todd Graham had to make a decision. It was either a 55-yard field goal attempt from his true freshman placekicker Brandon Ruiz or a conversion attempt to ice the game.

“You’ve gotta go with your gut feeling on that deal,” Graham said. “Go play to win.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins stepped back in the pocket, fired a pass to the near side and connected with junior tight end Ceejhay French-Love. Love then gained thirty yards down the sideline and secured Arizona State’s first victory over a top-5 ranked team in 21 years.

“We wanted to seal the game, we wanted to put the game away,” Wilkins said. “We wanted to make sure we had the best play possible for us to be able to win the game. Napier made a hell of a call.”

Both offenses struggled to make a significant impact on the scoreboard for 60 minutes Saturday night. The Sun Devils didn’t score after the break and UW placekicker Van Soderberg missed two key field goals within 30 yards.

“Once that ball got near the kick line, you needed to be aggressive,” Napier said. “Going for it on fourth-and-three at midfield, with the way the game was going, that was the right decision.”

Napier also noted after the game that French-Love wasn’t at 100 percent and joked that he had hoped that the junior tight end wouldn’t score, so the Devils could just put an end to the game.

“Ceejhay was actually playing with a hurt hamstring,” the first-year offensive coordinator said. “So the jokes in there is I’m glad he didn’t score so we can run the clock out and not give them the ball back.”

Had Wilkins’ pass sailed out of bounds, through French-Love’s outstretched hands or a few inches lower into the dirt, Browning and the Washington offense would’ve had plenty of time to lead a game-winning drive. The Huskies would’ve had a golden opportunity to remain undefeated and break the hearts of the 51,234 fans in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium.

But they never got the chance.

Wilkins kneeled the ball three times, ran to the “North Inferno” student section and was was swarmed by students rushing onto the field to celebrate the victory — one that seems to represent a key turning point for the program.

The Devils began the season with crushing losses to San Diego State at home and Texas Tech on the road, then came home to take down then No. 24 in Tempe during week four. ASU was then pummeled by Stanford in Palo Alto, but managed a shocking victory over Washington in week seven.

Arizona State has long-struggled to find an identity for itself as it enters the second half of its 2017-18 campaign, but the Sun Devils made one thing clear during their historic victory over the Huskies Saturday night: their ceiling is much higher than many could have ever predicted.