Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate PHNX Sports Community!

Sun Devils send seniors out strong with fifth consecutive Territorial Cup win

Shane Dieffenbach Avatar
November 28, 2021

As the final seconds ticked off the clock inside Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it became increasingly hard for ASU to contain its excitement. For the first time since the span of 1965-1973, the Sun Devils were able to make it five wins in-a-row over the Wildcats in a 38-15 victory. Once again, the Territorial Cup would stay safe in its case in Tempe for the next year as the Sun Devils maintained bragging rights across the state.

Unable to contain his excitement, senior captain and hometown hero Chase Lucas broke through the group of Sun Devils walking onto the field. Territorial Cup in hand, he sprinted towards the student section with fellow senior Curtis Hodges; Another local athlete who stayed true to ASU, stepping up to be one of the top receivers of the season .

Hurdling into the stands, the players celebrated with the students as the cup was staying in Tempe. After celebrating with the students, the players jumped back on the field and continued to pass around the cup, giving each a moment to cherish and appreciate the moment.

When it finally made it into the hands of Tyler Johnson, he hoisted it high into the air before kissing it.

“That’s five,” Johnson said, with tears rolling down his cheeks. “I’ve never lost to the Cats.”

The only game that matters

It didn’t matter if the Wildcats were 1-10 or 10-1. The mentality to prepare for this game would have been the same, as the rivalry brings out the best in both teams.

It’s a game with so much history, emotion and meaning, it can be a deciding factor on whether or not it’s considered a “successful season”. It was very much the case this year, as the Sun Devils would be looking at finishing either 8-4 or 7-5. While it’s only one game difference, it makes a big defference when looking at the overall coaching situation.

It’s been a season of adversity for the players, fluctutating emotions for the fans and a concerning amount of outside noise relating to the NCAA’s ongoing investigation for everyone. Confidence was also a problem this year at times for the offense, as Jayden Daniels has struggled to look like himself. Penalties are a reoccurring issue since the first game, causing their demise in all four losses.

Most recently, the Sun Devils had their ugliest and least productive offensive outing against Oregon State last week. It was a tipping point for a number of fans. Many came to the conclusion their ride on the ‘Herm train’ was coming to a stop.

How did the Sun Devils end up here when the preseason expectations were so high? It was the million-dollar question.

Preparing for the rivalry game this week, there was only one thought on the minds of the Sun Devils; Win, and win big.

The territorial cup is lifted out of the Arizona State Sun Devils fans section after they defeated the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Football Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Tempe. The game finished 38 -15 at the Sun Devils. Asuvsau 11272021 At 017 1

Arizona State was anticipating Arizona would come into this game holding a grudge from last year. The Wildcats had another reminder on their way to Tempe, passing the 70-7 billboard off I-10 in Casa Grande.

While there were a lot of alarming issues throughout the year, to finish 8-4 realistically isn’t as bad as it could, and probably should, be. The reason, seemingly being overlooked, is because of the efforts by the defense. It was no different Saturday in the Territorial Cup battle, where the Wildcats passed the Sun Devils in offensive production.

Defense shuts down the ground

While the offense was finally able to get things going,the battered and bruised defense was able to get the job done in a big way. Yes, Arizona had spark with some explosive plays in the air, but that’s because they were forced to pass the ball against the Sun Devils. Overall, Arizona State defense allowed a total of only 50 rushing yards on 34 carries.

“I think it’s respect for our defense,” Defensive Coordinator Antonio Pierce said. “We’ve been pretty stout for the most part of the year stopping the run. They challenged us. They made some very competitive catches.” 

By making the Wildcats to pass the ball, it allowed the Sun Devils to force turnovers.

As quarterback Will Plummer was scrambling to start out the second quarter, the Sun Devils were able to force a fumble deep in Wildcat territory. Johnson was able to pull the ball in at the one-yard-line, setting the Sun Devils up for an easy offensive touchdown by Rachaad While.

The quick series of events allowed Arizona State to tack on an extra seven points in a matter of seconds. It was a critical touchdown, as it helped the Sun Devils break out to a 14-6 lead.

A pick-six in the fourth quarter by senior Jack Jones helped ASU essentially seal the deal, extending the lead to what would be the final score of 38-15. As the Wildcats were just outside the red zone, it was a momentum shifting play allowing the Sun Devils to close out the game strong.

“I was just playing my coverage and the quarterback overthrew it and I picked the ball and took it to the house,” Jones said.

As he sprinted into the end zone towards the inferno, he launched into the student section to celebrate. Unbeknownst to him, it was a fine of roughly $7,000 for it.

“I’m not going to lie, that was the first pick-six of my career,” Jones said. “When I was at USC I was thinking about my first pick-six, I would throw it in the stands. But I never had that opportunity.”

While some coaches might have been upset, the Sun Devil coaching staff shrugged it off as Jones was going out with a bang. His outstanding performance earned him the Bob Moran Territorial Cup MVP.

“What did I tell you before the game that you were going to do?” Pierce said to Jones as they were speaking with the media. “I said every game you do what? I said this is his game. He’s a closer.”

Offense shows improved confidence

Earlier in the week, Edwards addressed how Daniels has been struggling to live up to expectations on the field this year. Noting the ongoing injuries across the offense this year, he said it’s not an excuse but did mention it made things harder for Daniels’ to adjust to.

Edwards also discussed how the only way for Daniels’ to get more comfortable out there this year is by passing the ball more. For some, the decision to get Daniels throwing the ball more this season was questionable, but Edwards explained the only way out of the slump is through it.

Daniels’ didn’t have a lights-out performance, but he did what he needed to in order to get the job done. While he may have only passed for 86 yards, he completed 10 of his 14 pass attempts for two touchdowns, both by Ricky Pearsall.

“He didn’t turn the ball over,” Edwards said. “He ran the ball, he hit some passes and they did a nice job.”

Daniels also was responsible for part of the legwork in today’s win, as he rushed for an additional 86 yards for a dead-even night in terms of yards produced. White led the team in rushing with 98 yards of their overall 228 rushing yards.

Nov 27, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils running back Rachaad White (3) jumps over Arizona Wildcats safety Jaxen Turner (21) during the second half at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils went on to win the Territorial Cup 38-15. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“We were talking about the journey through a season,” Offensive Coordinator Zak Hill said. “All its ups and downs and highs and lows, and you hope to learn through a lot of it, but it’s fun to end it this way at home against our rival and again, see everybody happy and excited.”

Immediately following the game, White announced it was his final night in suiting up as a Sun Devil. After speaking with the coaching staff, they’d come to a mutual agreement he wouldn’t be participating in the bowl game and would be focusing on preparing for the NFL Draft.c While White won’t be returning, there was finally an answer to the elephant in the room all year surrounding the future for Edwards.

Ray Anderson remains firm for Herm

Immediately following the presentation of the Territorial Cup, Ray Anderson entered the locker room and informed the team Edwards would be returning next season. Upon hearing the news, the players burst into cheers.

“It’s always nice when your players react the way they reacted,” Edwards said. “You feel like they appreciate the things we’re trying to accomplish and the way we do things here.”

Nov 27, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Jedd Fisch and Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards shake hands after their game at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

His status has raised a huge question mark since news of an ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting allegations broke in June.

“Herm’s back next year,” Pierce said. “Word on the street. Go ahead and print that shit.”

For Pierce, who was allegedly behind the recruiting violations, the future is still unclear. While the defensive production on the field this year helped the Sun Devils lead the Pac-12, it might not be enough to overcome the scarlet letter staining his reputation.

Should Pierce not come back, it will create some questions as to who will take over as the Director of Recruiting. Right now, the Sun Devils have the lowest-ranked recruiting class in the conference after a number of players backed off their pledge due to the investigation. Arizona State has a lot of ground to make up, and Edwards knows it.

It’s why he says he’ll be back at Sun Devil Stadium on Monday morning at 8 a.m. to start breaking down film of kids in the transfer portal.

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?