SDCCU Stadium fell almost silent. The Sun Devil fans in attendance were losing their minds, it was set to be 1st and Goal with six seconds remaining at the SDSU four-yard line with ASU down a touchdown.
Then the headsets came off, and the comeback hit the moist, cold San Diego ground.
Down a score with less than a minute left in the game redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Darby appeared to haul in an impressive deep catch that set ASU up in prime scoring position. But an official review to determine a targeting penalty assessed to SDSU sophomore defensive back Trenton Thompson overturned the call of a catch on the field.
It wasn’t meant to be.
Darby believes with all his heart that he completed the catch.
“I’m going to try and get over this, but this play is going to haunt me,” said Darby “I caught that pass and I came down. That was a grown man catch.”
The Sun Devils were cruising into what appeared to be a dominant road-showing. Up 14-7 and driving into Aztec territory with less than five minutes remaining in the half. ASU head coach Herm Edwards kept his promise to be aggressive on fourth down, and this time it backfired.
On fourth-and-one, ASU tried an option run with redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins and the San Diego State defense ate it up. A turnover on downs on the opponent’s 19-yard line and a complete shift in momentum. ASU didn’t convert a first down the majority of the second half, making the comeback nearly impossible.
Edwards stands by his decision to go for it, and the play call.
“At that point we were up and felt like if we make it we go up two scores. If not we figure that they’re not going to go 90 yards on us,” said Edwards. “That was a big swing for them. Then in the third quarter it was an even game, their rushing game took over and we couldn’t get off the field.”
SDSU rode a standout performance from junior running back Juwan Washington, and just enough from junior backup quarterback Ryan Agnew as the Aztecs completed the home-and-home sweep after winning in Tempe last September.
Agnew became the first quarterback from a non-power five school to beat a nationally ranked team since 2009. But he was hardly the story.
Washington totaled 164 yards of offense and one touchdown as he carried on the tradition of stand out play from SDSU running backs. It was the first time ASU was unable to contain an opposing running back through the first three games, as the ASU defense allowed 311 total yards on the ground.
“They outphysicaled us,” said ASU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales. “We missed way too many tackles, we had several tackles that we can make in the backfield that we don’t. Give them credit for doing a really good job.”
Both teams struggled to find their offensive rhythm early in the contest as defense was king the majority of the first quarter. ASU began the game’s scoring on a 12-yard touchdown reception from junior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the first of his Sun Devil career.
San Diego State responded with a score of their own, as Aztec running back Juwan Washington ran 13 yards for a touchdown evening the score at seven.
SDSU took the lead for good on a 54-yard from John Baron that felt like a crushing blow.
ASU’s inability to run the football will likely haunt them. ASU managed only 36 total rushing yards on 24 attempts and were man-handled in the trenches. It’s tough to win on the road without a rushing attack that keeps your defense off the field.
The Aztecs grabbed the momentum with a 28-14 lead with less than seven minutes left in the contest. The game appeared over, even former ASU golf standout Phil Mickelson was making his way to the exit. It looked like it was over, but the Sun Devils still had life.
As SDSU began playing more relaxed with a two-score lead, Wilkins delivered a seven-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry to cut the lead to seven. An unsuccessful onside kick set up SDSU in prime position to run out the clock, but a fumble from sophomore running back Chase Jasmin gave ASU a chance.
And the rest is history.
The Sun Devils will begin Pac-12 play next weekend with a trip up north to take on the Washington Huskies. The Huskies are the No. 10 team in the country and defeated Utah in Salt Lake City earlier on Saturday. Next weekend’s kickoff will be 7:30 p.m. and air on ESPN.