Arizona Football

The Territorial Cup Revisited: The Top 10 games in the storied football rivalry between Arizona and Arizona State





The scoreboard at Arizona Stadium reflects Chuck Cecil’s achievement as the UA took a commanding lead in its upset win over No. 4 ASU in 1986 (fan photo)

Before the season began, I compiled the Top 50 games in Arizona football history (in my opinion), and 18 of those (about one out of every three) involved games against arch-rival Arizona State. With Rivalry Week upon us, I have reduced the list of 50 to only those involving the top 10 Arizona-ASU games.

What follows in this blog are the Top 10 classic games in the Arizona vs. ASU annals (from a UA perspective). HouseofSparky.com ran its Top 5 games in the Territorial Cup from an ASU perspective.

This site and HouseofSparky.com rate the 1975 game between ASU and Arizona — the game of the famed “Catch” by Sun Devil receiver John Jefferson high. HouseofSparky.com has that game as its No. 1. I have it rated No. 3 from an Arizona perspective because of the magnitude of the game — ASU was 10-0 and Arizona 9-1 entering the game at Sun Devil Stadium. The Fiesta Bowl was on the line.


No. 1
Arizona 34, ASU 17
1986 – Arizona Stadium

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LINK: (No. 4 in Top 50): ASU smells roses but through broken nose as Cecil, DeBow lead Cats (TucsonCitizen.com)

An Arizona fan lofted that sign high in Arizona Stadium as the Wildcats were delivering a knockout blow of historical proportions.

The punch that put an exclamation point on the victory was Chuck Cecil’s 106-yard interception for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The play, officially listed at 100 yards, is the greatest play in the history of the program.

The Sun Devils were 9-0-1 entering the game, already clinching a spot in their first Rose Bowl, and were challenging for a national championship. The Wildcats (7-2) had not beaten their arch-rivals this convincingly since 1964 when Arizona beat Frank Kush’s 8-1 ASU team 30-6 in Tucson.


No. 2
Arizona 28, ASU 18
1982 – Arizona Stadium

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LINK: (No. 6 in Top 50): 1982 upset win keeps Sun Devils from Rose Bowl, starts “The Streak” (TucsonCitizen.com)


ASU was so confident about winning this game that it showed up to Arizona Stadium with its maroon jerseys, which the Sun Devils wear in the comforts of Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona warmed up in its blue jerseys but was forced to wear its road white jerseys because of what ASU reportedly called a communication error.

Given the circumstance of ASU’s dominance in the series at that point and the Wildcats’ struggles, the Sun Devils probably felt like they could do just about anything.

The Wildcats had no business winning this game or keeping it close. They were 5-4-1 overall, coming off one of the worst losses in the program’s history — a 14-7 loss the previous week at winless Oregon in which junior quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe was intercepted five times.

ASU (9-1) needed a victory to make its first Rose Bowl despite being in the Pac-10 only five years after leaving the Western Athletic Conference with Arizona. The Sun Devils were ranked No. 6 with the nation’s top-rated defense, anchored by menacing linebacker Vernon Maxwell.


No. 3
ASU 24, Arizona 21
1975 – Sun Devil Stadium

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LINK: (No. 8 in Top 50): UA loses heartbreaker to ASU wondering: “The Catch” really a catch? (TucsonCitizen.com)
If only they had instant replay back in the 1970s, then we would know for sure if “The Catch” is really “The Catch”. That’s what ASU fans call John Jefferson’s diving touchdown reception in the back of the end zone in the 1975 thriller, which had the most implications for both teams than any Arizona-ASU game to date.

The Tucson Citizen paints a gloomy picture of what-could-have-been in the Arizona locker room following the Wildcats’ 24-21 loss at ASU in 1975

Hard to believe: There was no live television (cable and satellite TV were not around back then) of this showdown in Tempe despite the fact that ASU was 10-0 and ranked No. 8 in the nation while Arizona was 9-1 and ranked No. 12. A trip to the Fiesta Bowl for the teams, as the WAC champion, was on the line. The Tucson Daily Citizen reported that 8,000 viewed a closed-circuit telecast of the game in Tempe and at McKale Center.

Most of what we have of “The Catch” are inconclusive grainy photos of Jefferson outstretched with the ball in his hands before he hits the ground. Did he trap it? Does he cradle the ball in his hands, preventing it from grazing the ground?


No. 4
Arizona 16, ASU 13
1985 – Sun Devil Stadium

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LINK: (No. 12 in Top 50): Zendejas’ 57-yard FG ties UA record, keeps ASU out of Rose Bowl again (TucsonCitizen.com)

Max Zendejas reacts to kicking the 32-yard field goal to give Arizona a 16-13 victory over ASU (Tucson Citizn file photo)


Poor John Cooper. Yes, the former ASU coach guided the Sun Devils to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 1986, but he never beat the Arizona Wildcats in three tries. In the season Cooper and ASU went to the Rose Bowl, the Wildcats dominated the Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium in a 34-17 win. In the season after in Tempe, all the Sun Devils had to do was get a punt off in the waning seconds to beat the Wildcats. The punter fumbled and Arizona tied the game on a field goal to extend “The Streak” to six games without a loss to the Sun Devils. Cooper then left to Ohio State.

The fourth game in “The Streak” — Arizona’s unlikely win in 1985 — happened because of the foot of place-kicker Max Zendejas and the questionable play calling of Cooper (who was in his first season in Tempe). All the Sun Devils needed was a tie against Arizona to advance to the Rose Bowl after they learned that first-place UCLA lost earlier in the day to USC.

ASU, 8-2 and on a six-game winning streak, appeared headed to Pasadena with the game tied at 13-13 and 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils had possession after advancing 12 yards from its 20 to the 32. Cooper called a running play on first down to eat some more clock. But instead of executing at least two more running plays to chew up more clock, Cooper went with the high-risk choices of passing on second and third down. The risk backfired.

After quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst threw an incompletion on second down, Arizona nose guard Stan Mataele sacked Van Raaphorst and caused a fumble, which Mataele recovered at the ASU 20. That gave Zendejas the opportunity to make a game-winning 32-yard field goal with 1:43 left as the Wildcats prevented their rivals from the Rose Bowl for the second time in four years.


No. 5
ASU 30, Arizona 7
1968 – Arizona Stadium

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LINK: (No. 18 in Top 50): Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968 (TucsonCitizen.com)

Former Arizona coach Darrell Mudra’s ultimatum to Sun Bowl officials before the 1968 game against ASU helped lead to his dismissal


The “Ultimatum Bowl”, as it became to be known, is the game that ignited the idea of the Fiesta Bowl and, as a result, produced future national championship football games in Phoenix. ASU (7-2) and Arizona (8-1) were about to meet in the Territorial Cup game. The Wildcats were coming off a significant 14-7 victory over No. 20 Wyoming the week before.

Officials of the Sun Bowl intended to invite the winner of the ASU-UA game to the El Paso bowl game. Instead, UA coach Darrell Mudra issued his famous ultimatum: Take us now or don’t take us at all and we’ll shop for other bowls. The Sun Bowl officials buckled to his demand and offered Arizona its 1968 invitation before the motivated Sun Devils routed the Wildcats 30-7 in Tucson.

The Ultimatum Bowl led to the successful Fiesta Bowl because Phoenix officials wanted to create their own bowl game to avoid what happened to the Sun Devils in 1968. The Fiesta Bowl began in 1971. ASU played in four of the first five games (winning four). By then, the Fiesta Bowl had been established nationally and financially. Arizona played Auburn in the 1968 Sun Bowl and lost 34-10.


No. 6
Arizona 24, ASU 24
1987 – Sun Devil Stadium

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LINK: (No. 19 in Top 50): Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie (WildAboutAZCats.net)

Arizona had three ties in 1987, including this zany outcome in Dick Tomey’s first season with the Wildcats in which the UA was 4-4-3. This one felt like a victory.

Tomey later said that “all they had to do was punt the ball” to win (at the 2:30 mark of the accompanying video). But the craziest thing happened. ASU punter Mike Schuh fumbled the snap and then was flagged for an illegal kick (trying to kick the ball on the ground) and All-American safety Chuck Cecil recovered.

The ball was placed at the ASU 13 on the penalty and Gary Coston nailed a 30-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game for Arizona. The Cats celebrated on the Sun Devil Stadium turf as if they were victorious. The outcome ended the UA’s winning run in “The Streak” but the Wildcats remained undefeated in the historic 1982-1990 stretch against their arch-rivals.


No. 7
Arizona 17, ASU 15
1983 – Sun Devil Stadium

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LINK: (No. 21 in Top 50): Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure (WildAboutAZCats.net)

UA place-kicker Max Zendejas sets up for his game-winning 45-yard field goal against ASU in 1983 (Click on photo to access YouTube video)

In the battle of the Zendejas brothers — ASU’s Luis Zendejas and UA’s Max Zendejas — Arizona got the maximum out of its place-kicker and received the push it needed to generate “The Streak” — the Wildcats’ nine-year unbeaten run against ASU.

Max Zendejas kicked a dramatic 45-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Sun Devils in front of a hostile crowd in Tempe. The Wildcats wilted the Sun Devils’ Rose Bowl hopes a year before with a 28-18 win in Tucson. Zendejas’ game-winner in 1983 not only gave the UA consecutive wins over ASU for the first time since 1961 and 1962, it provided the momentum for the Wildcats to prolong “The Streak” with the next game in Tucson (which the UA won 16-10).

From there, the dominoes fell until 1990.


No. 8
Arizona 10, ASU 0
1974 – Arizona Stadium

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LINK: (No. 24 in Top 50): UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach (TucsonCitizen.com)

Arizona coach Jim Young beat ASU and nemesis Frank Kush only once in four seasons but it happens to be the last time either team has shut out the other in the series

Although Frank Kush has not coached at ASU since 1979, he remains the figurehead for Arizona’s dislike for the Sun Devils in the football rivalry between the schools. Between 1965-1978, the Wildcats went 1-13 against Kush and ASU. In that 14-year span, the Wildcats lost six of seven games in Tucson by an average margin of 12.5 points.

The one loss for Kush in his 13-1 run against Arizona was this dominating 10-0 victory for Jim Young and the Wildcats. It remains the last shutout by either team in the series. It also improved the UA’s season to 9-2 — the first nine-win season in the program’s history. The game, which was the UA’s last win against a Kush-coached team, ended a nine-game losing streak against the Sun Devils. Kush and ASU shut out the UA two times previously, including Kush’s first season with the Sun Devils in 1958, when they defeated Arizona 47-0 in Tucson.

Young, who coached Arizona from 1973 to 1976 and helped the Wildcats gain the mindset they can competitively go from the WAC to the Pac-10, is quoted as saying in an Associated Press article of the 10-0 win over ASU: “It is the best win since I came to Arizona.” It was his lone victory against ASU and Kush and it occurred a year after the Sun Devils routed Arizona 55-19 in Tempe.


No. 9
Arizona 28, ASU 16
1997 – Sun Devil Stadium

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LINK: (No. 26 in Top 50): UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch (TucsonCitizen.com)

Arizona receiver Brad Brennan celebrates a crazy touchdown against ASU in 1997. He broke free behind ASU’s secondary after the Sun Devils stopped, thinking that they would be called for defensive encroachment, but the refs never blew the whistle after the Sun Devils got back on their side of the line before Ortege Jenkins lofted the ball to Brennan (YouTube video, 6:30 mark, click on photo to access video).

Talk about a reversal of fortunes: ASU was playing at home with a five-game winning streak, ranked No. 12 in the nation with an eye on a Fiesta Bowl bid with a victory over an Arizona team on a nine-game road losing streak. The Cats were 5-5 overall, including 1-4 against ranked teams. The Wildcats dominated from the start, however, in what turned out to be one victory in the middle of a 16-1 run from 1997 to 1998 for the Wildcats — the best stretch in the program’s history. The Sun Devils regressed to a 5-6 record the following year.

Ortege Jenkins, a redshirt freshman who started the 1997 season as a wide receiver, threw three first-half touchdown passes and linebacker Chester Burnett made two key plays in the fourth quarter in Arizona’s upset victory at Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona, which beat New Mexico in the Copper Bowl to end the season, stunned the Tempe crowd by taking a 21-0 lead.

Jenkins threw for 182 of his 194 yards in the first half, leading the Wildcats to a 28-7 advantage. Keith Smith also tossed a touchdown pass in the first half.


No. 10
Arizona 50, ASU 42
1998 – Arizona Stadium

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LINK: (No. 27 in Top 50): Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)

The best rushing performance by an Arizona player — before Ka’Deem Carey’s 366 yards against Colorado this season — occurred when the Wildcats completed the best regular-season in school history. Trung Canidate set Arizona’s single-game rushing record with 288 yards in 18 carries, including touchdown runs of 80, 66 and 48 yards, as the seventh-ranked Wildcats (11-1 with the win) held off a pesky Arizona State team that finished its season 5-6.

“I knew I had to run somebody over or put a move on,” Canidate told reporters afterward. “I put some moves on and I got into a flow and went to the house. The (offensive) line told me they would give me 14 inches of daylight. That’s all I needed.”

The 92-point shootout is the highest-scoring game in the intense intrasate rivalry. Canidate, who holds the UA record with 18 games with at least 100 yards rushing, broke the single-game record of 232 yards set by Jim Upchurch against Texas-El Paso in 1973. Carey now holds that record. Canidate has the career rushing mark at Arizona with 3,824 yards on 604 attempts from 1996-1999.


The remainder of the Arizona-Arizona State games listed in my Top 50 entering the season:

No. 30 of Top 50 — Arizona win on last-second FG over ASU ends Kush dominance in series (TucsonCitizen.com)

No. 34 of Top 50 — ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight (TucsonCitizen.com)

No. 36 of Top 50Ronald Veal to Derek Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)

No. 41 of Top 50 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)

No. 43 of Top 50 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)

No. 46 of Top 50 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)

No. 48 of Top 50 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)

No. 49 of Top 50 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner

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