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ASU Football: Season ends in 38-35 Territorial Cup loss to Arizona, state of program’s future uncertain

The Territorial Cup takes a sabbatical

Zach BonDurant, House of Sparky

TUCSON - Does the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl even sound appealing anymore?

When rivalry games end up as sweaty as Friday’s Territorial Cup was, bowl season has no match, at least from a motivational standpoint, for rivalry week. That is why college football is so special, even though that sentiment may have been lost on the fanbases of both Arizona State (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12) and Arizona (5-7, 3-7) in recent months.

But for nearly three hours, rear-ends were tethered to the edges of seats at Arizona Stadium in Tucson as ASU and Arizona swapped scores five times in a shootout that ended in a 38-35 victory for the Wildcats.

The Territorial Cup will establish residency in Tucson for the first time since 2016.

“This cup, it means so much,” interim head coach Shaun Aguano said. “It means so much to those guys in the locker room. It means so much to me, and I just want to apologize for not keeping it.”

Expectations were all over the place leading up to the America’s oldest rivalry’s 96th iteration. There was the whacky-rivalry factor, intra-squad tensions on the Wildcat sidelines and ominous tweets from ASU players. On top of it all, Sun Devil fans were already looking forward to what the offseason had in store.

It was unwise to gloss-over the main event, which was a slugfest in all facets, literally.

A pair of double-digit comebacks

If the Wildcats didn’t pass the ball, this game might have a more lopsided final score than the box score currently shows.

Wildcat running-back Michael Wiley (12 carries, 214 yards, three touchdowns), the Bob Moran Territorial Cup Most Outstanding Player, offered some first-drive foreshadowing when he broke off a 51-yard rushing touchdown on Arizona’s fourth play from scrimmage. Soon enough, U of A had a 10-0 lead, and the 70-7 jokes rained down on Wildcat-twitter.

The second quarter told a different story, with ASU scoring back-to-back touchdowns courtesy of X Valladay (97 yards, two touchdowns) and Elijhah Badger (92 yards, one touchdown). By halftime, the defense had pieced together its best string of series of the day, and the Sun Devils led 14-10. After a poorly-thrown interception, ASU QB Trenton Bourguet settled in for a solid first half, working on a rate of 19-for-23 for 182 yards and a touchdown and interception apiece.

Giovanni Sanders (120 yards, one touchdown) added another score after half. Afterwards, Arizona went on a 14-0 run, achieving its second 10-point lead of the afternoon.

But, like all year, ASU wasn’t going down without some lat-game dramatics, and bounced back with consecutive scores of its own. With 11:04 left on the clock on the season, ASU held its final lead of the year.

Failure closing out

Twice, Bourguet and company could have put a dagger, or at least some heavy pressure, on Arizona. The Wildcats regained a 38-35 lead with eight-and-change on the clock. ASU chipped away and drove down into Wildcat territory with a sustained drive that couldn’t have ended in a worse manner.

The ASU offensive line, who possibly had its best performance of the season, lapsed when Wildcat defender Jalen Harris sacked Bourguet, knocked the ball out, and Arizona recovered with 3:17 left on the clock. Aguano had one timeout remaining. Ballgame, right?


On a day where the ASU front-seven established little resistance, defensive lineman T.J. Pesefea exploded through the line-of-scrimmage on Wildcat a fourth-and-one in ASU territory to give Bourguet a second chance. It was the biggest play all season for defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson’s crew, and it materialized into nothing.

Three plays later, the Wildcat pressure was too much for the Tucson-native, forcing a throw from Bourguet that was tipped and intercepted by Isaiah Taylor of Arizona. It was no surprise when the benches cleared immediately after.

The difference

A list might summarize the data best:

  • Arizona gained a free possession in the first half when ASU punt-returner Javen Jacobs fumbled a punt that the Wildcats recovered. That drive ended in a field goal, which was the total difference in Saturday’s matchup.
  • The Wildcats out-rushed the Sun Devils by 119 yards (280-161). Arizona was allowing 212 yards-per-game rushing (second-worst in the Pac-12) coming into Saturday.
  • Arizona’s offense gained a whopping-average of 9.4 yards per-play. Michael Wiley averaged 17.83 yards per-carry.
  • The Sun Devils turned the ball over five times. Arizona did it once.

What’s Next?

The short answer? A whirlwind of chaos, most likely.

As weird as it sounds, the important stuff starts now. Aguano, who finishes with a 2-7 record as interim head coach, almost certainly will not be the next head coach of Arizona State football. Bourguet, the presumed future quarterback, was non-committal when asked if he will return next year. Other players will hit the portal sooner-rather-than later.

“We didn’t get the job done, and it’s a win business,” a teary-eyed Aguano said. “I get it. And I’m so good (emotionally) because I took care of those kids.

“So, I’m always going to be a Sun Devil. This is one of the greatest things that has happened in my life, and my family’s life. We made a difference. We didn’t get it done, so there is going to be a lot of disappointed people in me for not taking back the Territorial Cup, and I’m good with it. I just love the kids in that room, so I’m good.”

The season ended Saturday, but the wave of change will continue deep into this offseason, and it might start this weekend.

Sun Devil fans, buckle up.

“I just challenge Sun Devil Nation (and) whoever the next head coach of this program, whether it be Coach Aguano or whoever they bring in, let’s step up our game,” linebacker Kyle Soelle said. “Let’s really be a championship contender. Let’s back the team. Let’s back NIL. Let’s back the coach, whatever it may be.”