In front of 53,754 at Sun Devil Stadium on Homecoming weekend, the #14 Arizona State Sun Devils would conquer the #17 Utah Utes, 19-16, in what wound up as a thrilling overtime contest between two evenly matched teams.
As the clock struck zeros in regulation, there was just one final game to be played across what was another day in the life of the wild and wacky Pac-12 Conference.
The game went so late that even the University of Hawaii finished before the Sun Devils and Utes drew to a dramatic close.
Prominently featured were two of the best kickers in all of college football-the hero, Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State, and the shaken victim, Andy Phillips of Utah. Heading into overtime, both men had made three field goals and were the primary reason their team was still in position to come out victorious and take the lead atop the Pac-12 South.
If lasting until what was nearly 3 a.m. in the morning on the east coast (but not really because of daylight savings) wasn't dizzying enough, the Utes would ice their own kicker and watch in horror as one of the nation's premier placekickers would hook one wide right, and then after a timeout, wide left.
The Sun Devils would respond with three conservative calls that led to Gonzalez nailing a 36-yard field goal that sent the Sun Devil faithful home happy.
After the game, it was unanimous amongst the elated Sun Devils that they believed Gonzalez was the best kicker in the nation. When was the last time Gonzalez made a game-winner? "Not since junior year of high school," said Gonzalez. The sly smile that came over his face after that moment allowed those in attendance to understand just how special this was for him.
Gonzalez wasn't the game's only breakout star, as freshman running back Demario Richard went for 116 yards on just 14 carries to lead Arizona State in rushing. Coach Todd Graham offered after the game that, "this running back core is special." When combined with veteran back D.J. Foster, the two would amass nearly 170 yards rushing on the ground, outdueling the one-man show that was Devontae Booker on the Utah sideline.
With leading wide receiver Dres Anderson down for the season for Utah, the majority of the load will fall on the shoulders and legs of Booker, who took 37 carries for 146 yards in the Utes' defeat. Despite completing 12 of his 22 pass attempts, Travis Wilson finished with only 57 yards passing. Outside of the opening drive to the second half where the Utes pushed the pace with their tempo, moving the ball was virtually non-existent for the Utah offense.
Arizona State would jump ahead early on two Gonzalez field goals to give them a 6-0 edge. Momentum was firmly in their command up until when Gionni Paul intercepted Taylor Kelly on fourth down in Utah territory. The Utes would get points out of the turnover, but would have to settle for a booming kick from Phillips that connected from 50 yards out, cutting the deficit to 6-3.
The only time Arizona State would find pay dirt all night was on a drive defined by the number 32. It would be Richard who would scatter forward for 32 yards on the ground, then followed by Kelly connecting with Jaelen Strong for 32 yards in the air. The drive would end when Kelly found his favorite red zone target in the 6'3" Strong once again in the corner of the endzone.
Although the Utes fell behind 13-3 with just a few minutes remaining in the first half, Arizona State left the door open as Utah would tack on an Andy Phillips field goal to cut the lead down to 13-6 before getting the ball to open the second half.
Seemingly having abandoned all hope of a passing game at halftime, Wilson and Booker shredded the Sun Devils on the first possession of the second half. Wilson would have a 32-yard run of his own before Booker would get in on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Wilson.
With no Dres Anderson, Kaelin Clay would have to step up in his absence. While he would only catch 2 balls for -2 yards of offense, his 22-yard punt return would set up Phillips for yet another blast through the uprights, putting Utah ahead 16-13.
Nothing seemed to go right for the Arizona State offense in the second half-even when quarterback Taylor Kelly would punt. He would botch a pooch punt for a total of 19 yards, while the offense stalled.
If it were not for some egregious interception drops on the part of Utah, Kelly's narrative would be quite different. Instead, he would connect with Gary Chambers for 31 yards in the fourth quarter before Gonzalez would knot the game up at 16 with a 30-yard field goal after a dropped interception.
In what made for a war of attrition, it seemed whoever held the ball last would find a way to come out on top. Kaelin Clay broke out into space with just over three minutes left in the game, returning a kick 40 yards to the 45-yard line, putting Utah in prime position to win the game. But the Arizona State defense would hold steadfast.
Each team would have one last chance to win in regulation, but eventually back-up sensation Mike Bercovici ceased prolonging the inevitable by chucking an interception on a Hail Mary for Arizona State as the clock read zeros. (He would finish with a hilariously terrible passer rating of -200.0)
Unable to get a first down on their first offensive possession in overtime, the Utes had to settle for a field goal from their usually reliable kicker Andy Phillips. He would plant and fire wide right, but not before the Utes had seemingly iced their own kicker with a time out. Phillips had his second chance, yet that would go wide as well, this time to the left as the Sun Devils took their place in the driver's seat.
Even after having missed a 50-yard field goal earlier, kicker Zane Gonzalez was saying, "gimme one more chance." With that last chance, he would hammer home a 36-yard field goal, giving the Sun Devils sole possession of the lead in the Pac-12 South.
With Arizona falling on the road to UCLA, the Sun Devils remain as the sole one-loss team standing in the Pac-12 South. Conceivably, it remains just them and Oregon as perennial College Football Playoff contenders, with just over a month until the Pac-12 Championship game is played.
Coach Todd Graham preached that "it's a one-loss tournament this month," as he looks to lead Arizona State back to the Pac-12 Championship game-this time to Levi's Stadium in San Francisco.
It seems finally the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball caught up with a Utah club that was stout defensively. On the other side of the ball, Arizona State has begun to catch their stride, once again limiting their opponent to less than 17 points.
As total nightfall hits Tempe, and the sun nears rising in the east, just the Arizona State Sun Devils remain standing. Both teams can make claims to have deserved the win, but just one remains alive in their hopes for a National Championship.