TEMPE — The culmination of Kenny Dillingham and the 2023 Arizona State (3-9, Pac-12 2-7) football season came on Saturday’s 59-23 loss to rival No. 15 Arizona (9-3, Pac-12 7-2). The Sun Devils final game played as a member of the Pac-12 produced a record-breaking day for the Wildcats. Freshman quarterback Noach Fifita threw for 527 yards, not only a Territorial Cup record but an Arizona school record as well. The Territorial Cup will remain in Tucson, Arizona for another year.
Arizona began their drive with a touchback on the opening kickoff. On a third and 3, Fifita got the Wildcats into the red zone for the first time in the game after he completed a 30-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan. Three straight incompletions for the Wildcats forced a 35-yard field goal to give Arizona the first points on the scoreboard.
The Sun Devils began their drive on the ground with direct snaps to junior tight end Jalin Conyers leading the way. The big man picked up 50 yards on three carries with the largest being a 39-yard carry down to the Arizona six-yard line to electrify the Sun Devil home crowd. Two plays later, junior running back Cam Skattebo punched it for the four-yard touchdown and gave ASU their only lead of the day at 7-3.
Arizona’s second drive of the afternoon was a direct contrast to the previous Sun Devil offensive possession. The Wildcats slung the ball down the field with Fifita who threw for 72 yards the drive. Wildcats receivers found soft spots in the Sun Devils secondary, and it was a screen to senior tight end Tanner McLachlan for three yards and the lead.
On the final play of the first quarter, freshman quarterback Jaden Rashada checked into the game and completed a 7-yard pass to junior wide receiver Troy Omeire.
Following ASU’s first punt of the game, the Wildcats’ third scoring drive was sparked by a 57-yard completion down to the Arizona State four-yard line. Arizona’s third drive down to the Sun Devil red zone in as many drives resulted in a four-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Jonah Coleman. Two plays and 44 seconds is all it took for Arizona to go up 17-7.
With Rashada in at quarterback, some inevitable rust showed on Arizona State’s third possession. Following a critical unsportsmanlike penalty on Arizona on 3rd and seven to keep ASU’s drive alive, a dropped pass by Omeire with guaranteed first down yardage led to the first turnover of the contest. Rashad’s pass over the middle was intercepted by sophomore safety Dalton Johnson sitting in the underneath zone.
Following the flip of possession, Arizona had a dominating drive of six plays for 77 yards. Fifita threw three passes for 54 yards on a drive was capped off by a 22-yard rushing touchdown from senior running back Michael Wiley.
The Wildcats began to control the game with a quick defensive stop and another dominating offensive possession. Fifta’s 26-yard completion to junior wide receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig to the ASU one-yard line set up the direct-snap touchdown to Wiley, his second of the day to make the score 31-7.
Wiley’s third touchdown of the quarter came after a quick ASU possession. Fifita completed three straight passes for 49 yards in his most impressive drive of the first half and put the Wildcats up by 31 points by halftime. Wiley’s reception at the ASU 21-yard line capped off the day for the Arizona offense which produced 410 total offensive yards in the half.
Fifita’s first half stat line was an impressive 19-29 for 357 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona did not punt the ball once in the first half.
Arizona State’s dreadful first half was complete with 12 pass attempts, five of which were completed, and 20 rushes for 125 rushing yards. ASU gained a total of 125 yards on offense at the half.
If there was any hope of a fresh start for Arizona State in the game, all hope was immediately thwarted when Rashad’s first pass and ASU’s second play of the second half was intercepted by Wildcat junior safety Gunnar Maldonado who returned the ball to the Sun Devil eight yard line.
Two plays later, the Wildcats extended the lead to 38 points. Fifita’s third touchdown pass of the game went to McLachlan for eight yards, his second of the game.
Following a turnover on downs from ASU, Fifta’s fourth touchdown was a 50-yard bomb to McMillan to make the score 52-7. McMillan was not within 20 yards of a maroon shirt and the feelings of a record-breaking day began to sink in at Mountain America Stadium.
Arizona State’s second scoring drive of the game came via the ground after poor quarterback play gutted the Sun Devil offense. Dillingham switched the game plan to the ground with 10 rushes on the 75-yard drive. A mixture of Skattebo and Conyers brought the Devils down to the one-yard line where Conyers reached the ball over for the score. The Sun Devils two-point conversion was successful with Conyers on the ground.
The Wildcats first punt of the game came late in the third quarter, leading to ASU’s third touchdown on a drive that began on the ASU 45-yard line. Rashada’s 31-yard ball to the corner of the endzone landed in the outstretched hands of a diving Omeire. Junior running back DeCarlos Brooks ran in the two-point conversion.
At the 9:36 mark in the fourth quarter, the Arizona State defense forced its first turnover when graduate student Tre Brown stepped in front of a Fifita pass near the goaline.
Arizona’s record-breaking drive from Fifita came on a 24-yard pass to Wiley. The drive ended in the eventual one-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jacob Cowing to give the Wildcats 59 points.
As the final whistle sounded, Arizona State had played its final game of the 2023 season and Dillingham as head coach. This was the final meeting between ASU and Arizona as members of the Pac-12 Conference.