Arizona State's season ended on a very symbolic note, a crucial error that cost the Sun Devils a victory. Mistakes, turnovers, and penalties have held Dennis Erickson's maroon and gold back for the past three seasons, and yesterday against the Arizona Wildcats, that story was evident.
The Duel in the Desert lived up to its billing, however, late in the first half the Arizona Wildcats began to pull away. With Arizona State struggling on offense, the punt team was sent out onto the field to try and change field position.
Well, Trevor Hankins and the rest of the special teams definitely did that, although, the game was changed in the favor of the hated Wildcats, not the Sun Devils.
Hankins's punt was blocked by Orlando Vargas, and then Vargas completed the game-changing play by scooping up the ball and racing down the sideline for a 23-yard touchdown return.
All the emotions and momentum that ASU built up from Senior Day appeared to be evaporating into the Arizona sky.
However, a senior leader that most fans never wanted to see on the field again, brought the Sun Devils back into contention a revitalized the Sun Devil Stadium crowd.
Senior quarterback Danny Sullivan replaced Samson Szakacsy late in the second quarter, and from that point on the ASU offense operated with a purpose.
Believe it or not, the running game ran with intensity, power, and innovation. Erickson featured Senior tailback Dimitri Nance in counter and trap running plays that ASU has not used all season. Nance finished his career at ASU with an outstanding performance carrying the ball 23 times for 115 yards.
Just as it has been all season, the running game allowed for Erickson to call play action passes and burn the U of A secondary. Sullivan's favorite target throughout the contest was Kyle Williams.
Williams' big play potential was evident picking up critical first downs and hauling in two sensational touchdown passes.
Although Williams has displayed his big-play ability throughout his career, but the Scottsdale native has always taken a step back and made some downright game-changing mistakes as well, and yesterday was a perfect example of that.
With ASU down by 11, Erickson needed a big play to turn the momentum in the Sun Devils favor. So, Erickson dialed up a play for Williams, and then Sullivan found him racing across the field towards the sideline. Williams turned the play into a 44-yard touchdown and cut the lead to five points.
Erickson was about to attempt a two-point conversion; however, Williams was elated, so much so that he removed his helmet while he was still in the end zone. Erickson was then forced to send out Thomas Weber for the extra point.
Then, with the score reading: Arizona 17, ASU 10, Erickson and quarterback Danny Sullivan engineered a very impressive fourth quarter drive both through the air and on the ground with Dimitri Nance.
But with their backs against the wall, on a 4th-and-13, Sullivan rolled to the right and found Williams in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 17.
With under two minutes left, the Arizona State defense responded each and every time in the second half, and the Sun Devil defense did just that in the waning moments of the game.
The Wildcats were forced to punt to Kyle Williams and rely on their defense that had let them down the whole fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Sun Devils never had a chance to test the U of A defense for a third time in the fourth quarter.
Williams went back to receive the punt, and in traffic the senior called for a fair catch; however, the catch was never made. Williams muffed the punt and the Wildcats recovered the ball deep in Sun Devil territory.
Unfortunately, as they say, "the rest is history."
The Wildcats kept the football on the ground to chew up the remaining time on the clock, and then sent out Alex Zendejas to kick the game winning 32-yard field goal with no time remaining.
The Duel in the Desert has always been a roller coaster affair filled with high intensity and emotion and this contest was nothing short of that. Williams was the player of the game for good and bad reasons, it is unfortunate that his career will be remember by that mistake on that final punt, but that is just how the 2009 season has gone for Dennis Erickson and Arizona State.