Just over one year ago, Frank Darby was heartbroken. A matter of inches and two points separated his white cleats from the back of the end zone at Autzen Stadium.
A heroic fourth quarter comeback in Eugene was flushed down the drain and fell short in a 31-29 loss to the Ducks. Darby was the center of a controversial play that would be debated. And above everything, the aspirations of a Pac-12 South title floated out the window.
One year later, though, Darby has his revenge. The wideout triumphantly burst into his postgame media session after ASU’s 31-28 upset over No. 6 Oregon at Sun Devil Stadium.
“Dreams is crushed! Ain’t no playoffs,” Darby exclaimed. “We talking about playoffs?”
For as quick as the Sun Devils dreams were shattered last year at Oregon, the favor was returned on a wild primetime matchup on Saturday night in Tempe. Oregon’s 9-1 season and hopes of a possible College Football Playoff berth were screeched to a halt.
The Devils’ played spoiler in the national spotlight as they took down a future first-round quarterback.
Darby had two touchdowns, four receptions, and 125 yards receiving. The revenge that had lingered in his mind for so long turned into a reality.
“This is an amazing feeling right now. I am thinking about it, and they should have gave me the two points,” Darby said. “I came out here with a chip on my shoulder and I know they did too. The last time we played them, we had a bad outcome with missed opportunities. But we got them now.”
Along with Darby’s frustration from the last matchup came a homework assignment over the offseason. Offensive coordinator Rob Likens told his guys to rewatch the Oregon game from last season and write down everything that went wrong - the miscues, the penalties, the shots in the foot.
All of it escalated into Saturday’s showdown.
“They all texted me and told me why they thought we lost, and what we did wrong,” said Likens of the summer homework assignment. “I got it from the whole team, and it was outstanding. I did that for a purpose, and I figured this was going to be an important game. I wanted them to think about that.”
Thus, the revenge was served. Darby’s big night was mixed with seven receptions and 161 yards from senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels slung the rock and went 22-32 for 408 yards in the upset.
Defensively, ASU had two key interceptions that changed the tides of the game. One was from junior cornerback Jack Jones and senior linebacker Khaylan Kearse-Thomas. Then there was the knockout punch with Daniels’ 81-yard bomb to Aiyuk in the fourth quarter.
For the seniors of Aiyuk and Kearse-Thomas, the bitter taste of last year’s Oregon aftermath was left with them in those waning moments. Head coach Herm Edwards elaborated on the subject.
“We talked about it last year and we showed them highlights of last year’s game and showed them where they fell short,” Edwards said. “These guys are a good football team, and it was going to take four quarters. It was going to take every bit of their energy and their competitive fire.
“...They were trying to get to to the playoffs and this was big for them. This was big for us too because we needed to see what it was like to win a football game again, and see what it’s like to win. I think our guys stood up to the test, and we hung in for four quarters.”
Above all, the win was a matter of how ASU has absorbed its punches. Last year was the deflating loss at Oregon. This season has been the four-game conference losing streak. But in the midst of all the lows, the Sun Devils found a way to keep their heads up high going into Saturday’s game against a top-10 opponent.
By no means does a win against Oregon justify some of the miscues and lapses that ASU has already sustained. However, Saturday did prove what a young team is capable of if they are able to play to their full potential. And at least for Saturday, the train got back on the tracks.
“What a great lesson for young kids. In the word that we live in today, everyone wants instant satisfaction, and we haven’t gotten that instant satisfaction this year,” Likens said. “Through four games, they persevered. They practiced hard all week, and it just goes to teach them that if they hold on to the rope and don’t let go, good things can happen.”