Arizona Football

Rivalry Week: Top 15 Arizona Wildcats victories over ASU (three greatest)


Arizona faces ASU in the latest chapter of the Territorial Cup on Saturday in Tempe. This site will publish this week in the days leading up to the game Arizona’s top 15 victories in the series. Make sure to catch up on the series by clicking on this link: Top 15 Arizona wins over ASU.

NO. 3

SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 28, No. 6 ASU Sun Devils 18

DATE: November 27, 1982

SITE: Arizona Stadium, 58,515 in attendance (record at the time)

WHY IT MADE THE LIST: 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.

Arizona Daily Star clipping of Arizona’s 28-18 upset of No. 6 ASU in 1982, preventing the Sun Devils from reaching the Rose Bowl.

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.

ASU was also on a 15-2 run against Arizona. In the Sun Devils’ previous game in Tucson in 1980, coach Larry Smith’s first year, they routed the Wildcats 44-7 on a blistery cold night. That was the only game Arizona All-American linebacker Ricky Hunley, out because of a broken thumb, missed in his illustrious UA career.

“It was bad. It was really bad,” Hunley told John Moredich of the Tucson Citizen in a 2007 article. “They rubbed it in. They were beating us down. My picture was on the program, and I didn’t play. It hurt.”

Longtime Tucson Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson recalled in an obituary written about Smith, after his passing in 2008, that Smith made a vow after that embarrassing 44-7 loss to the Sun Devils.

“He said, ‘They’re not going to beat us again,'” Simpson told ESPN.

The Sun Devils won the following season in Tempe but never beat Arizona again in five games afterward with Smith coaching the Wildcats, starting with this 28-18 upset in front of a record crowd of 58,515 at Arizona Stadium. Smith’s teams prevented ASU from smelling the roses in this game and in 1985 at Sun Devil Stadium behind the kicking of Max Zendejas, who also converted a game-winner in 1983 at ASU.

Larry Smith observes pregame warmups at Arizona Stadium with the Wildcats wearing blue uniforms. They changed to white because ASU showed up with maroon jerseys (YouTube video capture)

Larry Smith observes pregame warmups at Arizona Stadium with the Wildcats wearing blue uniforms. They changed to white because ASU showed up with maroon jerseys (YouTube video capture)

In Smith’s last win over ASU in 1986, the Wildcats routed the Rose Bowl-bound Sun Devils 34-17 at Arizona Stadium.

Smith told The Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen in a 1996 column that the 1982 victory over ASU — which started “The Streak” of nine consecutive games without a loss to the Sun Devils — was his most important win as coach of the Wildcats.

“People always asked me what my greatest victory was, and after we beat Notre Dame (in ’82) I had a game ball painted with `The Greatest Win’ put on the side,” Smith told Hansen. “That was the most prestigious win we had at Arizona, but the most important win was that ’82 game against Arizona State.

“That turned the tide within the state, something that had been a negative factor in Arizona football for 20 or 30 years. And it wasn’t just a one-game thing. We were able to maintain our edge from that game and keep it. In terms of how valuable a game was, that was the one. I can still see old Brian Holland running down the field.”

With the game scoreless early in the second quarter, Holland, a junior tailback, and Tunnicliffe hooked up in one of the most memorable pass receptions in the program’s history.

Arizona faced a third-and-8 at its own 8 against ASU’s blitzing defense. UA offensive coordinator Steve Axman called for a quick drop by Tunnicliffe, with Holland going against man coverage against linebacker Mark Hicks. Tunnicliffe successfully read a safety blitz, released the ball before getting hit by two defenders, and hit Holland on stride over the middle at the 25.

Brian Holland runs to the end zone untouched on a xx-yard completion from Tom Tunnicliffe in 1982 against ASU (YouTube video capture)

Brian Holland runs to the end zone untouched on a 92-yard completion from Tom Tunnicliffe in 1982 against ASU (YouTube video capture)

Holland ran untouched to the endzone and the Wildcats led 7-0. The 92-yard touchdown pass tied the Arizona record, set in 1972 when Bill Demory connected with Charlie McKee in a 1972 game against BYU. Tunnicliffe also became the school’s career passing leader in the game. He increased his career passing yards to 5,144.

“All the things we planned worked,” Tunnicliffe is quoted as saying by Hansen. “Quick reads, quick throws. … There was no part of their defense I couldn’t figure out. I mean, I wasn’t sacked, was I?”

Smith was concerned about how those plans would work against ASU. In the week leading up to the game, Smith was discouraged by how Arizona practiced. Moreover, ASU was coming off a bye and had two weeks to prepare for the Wildcats.

“I thought we had an average week of practice, but we had a deep-seat of emotion and that was the difference,” Smith was quoted as saying by the UPI after the game. “Our whole attack was to run right at them and slow down their defense … then mix in a high percentage pass or two.”

By the middle of the third quarter Arizona used that strategy — and shut down ASU defensively — to build a 26-0 lead against the stunned Sun Devils.

Arizona scored the first of two safeties 15 seconds into the third quarter as running back Darryl Clack was pulled down in the end zone by nose guard Joe Drake. The sizable and formidable Drake, who played at 6-2 and 300 pounds, altered the path of running back Dwaine Wright in the fourth quarter, allowing linebacker Glenn Perkins to close in and get Arizona’s second safety of the game.

Arizona celebrates the second safety by defensive tackle Joe Drake (No. 79) against ASU in 1982 (YouTube video capture)

Arizona celebrates a safety by defensive tackle Joe Drake (No. 79) against ASU in 1982 (YouTube video capture)

Drake, who passed away from a heart attack at 31 in 1994, had another significant tackle against ASU the following season in Tempe, stopping ASU quarterback Todd Hons one yard from the goal-line on a two-point conversion try. The play kept ASU’s lead at 15-14 and provided the opportunity for Zendejas to convert his 45-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

In the 1982 game, Tunnicliffe frustrated ASU’s blitzing defense again and exposed its man coverage in the secondary with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Brad Anderson, who made a leaping, juggling catch before racing into the end zone. The Wildcats scored again three minutes later on a 1-yard run by Holland after the Wildcats recovered a fumble at the ASU 29.

The Sun Devils rallied to close the gap to 28-18 on two touchdown runs by Clack. The freshman tailback scored on runs of 3 yards and 1 yard and ASU added a field goal and a 2-point conversion, but Arizona’s lead — and its will to win — was too large to overcome.

“The U of A kicked our tails pretty good,” ASU coach Darryl Rogers was quoted as saying by the UPI after the game. “From the first half on, they did pretty much what they had to do. We did not pass protect. We did not run protect. The U of A just flat out kicked our tail and whipped us on the lines.”

ASU’s loss paved the way for UCLA to play in the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils played Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Arizona stayed home but it cherished its third win against ASU in 18 seasons. The Wildcats did not realize it at the time but the victory also started a nine-year unbeaten run against ASU in which Arizona re-established itself in the series. The Frank Kush dominance in the series became a distant memory.

“You never forget the ASU games, never,” Hunley told Moredich in the 2007 interview. “Once we got that first one, it was big. That gives you a chance. You have to get the first one.”

NO. 2

SCORE: No. 14 Arizona Wildcats 34, No. 4 ASU Sun Devils 17

DATE: Nov. 22, 1986

SITE: Arizona Stadium, 58,267 in attendance

WHY IT MADE THE LIST: “You Can’t Smell Roses With A Broken Nose”

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 right up there as the greatest play in the history of the program with Ortege Jenkins’ “Leap by the Lake” at Washington in 1998.

Arizona Daily Star clipping from when Arizona upset No. 4 ASU in 1986.

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 Jim LaRue’s team pounded Frank Kush’s 8-1 team 30-6 in Tucson.

The victory was the fifth straight by the Wildcats over their archrival during “The Streak” and earned them a berth in the Aloha Bowl against North Carolina, in which they won to notch their first bowl victory in school history.

The Sun Devils failed to notch their first undefeated regular season since 1975, when they went 11-0.

An over-capacity crowd of 58,267 — the second-largest ever at Arizona Stadium at the time — saw the Wildcats convert four ASU turnovers into 24 points, highlighted by Cecil’s return. His interception of a Jeff Van Raaphorst pass tied an NCAA record at 100 yards although he caught it six yards deep in the end zone. Under NCAA rules, interceptions inside the end zone are measured from the goal line.

“I just ran,” Cecil told the Tucson Citizen years later. “I still, to this day, don’t know why I ran it out.”

Lost through the years over the hyperbole of Cecil’s interception is the pass rush on Van Raaphorst, including that of tackle George Hinkle from the left side and nose guard Jim Birmingham up the middle. Hinkle and Birmingham put pressure on the ASU quarterback to hurry his throw toward Aaron Cox into coverage.

It was one of six snaps Arizona State took inside the Wildcats 5 but came away empty-handed every time. ASU also lost the ball once inside the 5 on a fumble — that was caused by Cecil in the first quarter — and was stopped on three plays from the 3 another time.

After Arizona took a 21-10 lead on the opening possession of the third quarter, the Sun Devils drove as far as the Wildcats 3. Three carries by Channing Williams,however, only got Arizona State to the 1.

Kent Bostrom then kicked an 18-yard field goal, but the Wildcats were flagged for too many men on the field. ASU coach John Cooper elected to take the points off the board and went for the touchdown. The move by Cooper, winless in three games against Arizona as ASU’s coach, backfired because of an other highlight defensive play, this one by linebacker James DeBow.

On fourth-and-inches, Williams was stopped just short of the goal line by DeBow, who held up Williams’ penetration long enough for his teammates to join to prevent the touchdown. DeBow weighed 195 pounds compared to Williams at 216.

“It`s sweet to win five straight (over ASU),” DeBow, who also had an interception in the game, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “I think we have a psychological edge on them.”

Cooper told the AP: “We didn`t score when we had the opportunity and the U of A played a great game.”

The Wildcats were also led by senior running back David Adams, who gained 91 yards on 18 carries. Arizona quarterback Alfred Jenkins completed 11 of 17 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown. Van Raaphorst completed 38 of 55 passes on the day for 437 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times.

“I said before the game I felt we were ready to bust loose and play our best game of the season and I think we did,” Arizona coach Larry Smith was quoted as saying by the AP. “The beautiful thing about it is that it was in front of the whole country.

“We beat the No. 4 team in the country and the Pac-10 champion. That’s a lot to be proud of.”

James DeBow stops the progress of ASU running back Channing Williams on a critical 4th-and-goal play in the third quarter of the 1986 classic (KGUN-TV video capture)

James DeBow stops the progress of ASU running back Channing Williams on a critical 4th-and-goal play in the third quarter of the 1986 classic (KGUN-TV video capture)

Arizona started strong, thanks to the efforts of Cecil and DeBow, and that provided the confidence and momentum for the Wildcats to knock off the previously unbeaten Sun Devils.

After Hinkle recovered a fumble caused by Cecil at the Arizona three-yard line, the Wildcats drove 97 yards in six plays, with Adams scoring on an 18-yard swing pass from Jenkins with 7:14 remaining in the first quarter. Art Greathouse, a freshman tailback from Phoenix, bulled over from five yards out 1:29 into the second quarter to make it 14-0. The 11-play, 73-yard drive was set up by DeBow’s interception at the Arizona 29-yard line.

NO. 1

SCORE: No. 11 Arizona Wildcats 42, No. 13 ASU Sun Devils 35

DATE: Nov. 28, 2014

SITE: Arizona Stadium, 56,083 in attendance

WHY IT MADE THE LIST: So much drama and it was not only on the field at Arizona Stadium.

For No. 11 Arizona to claim its first outright title since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, the Wildcats not only had to beat No. 13-ranked ASU but hope that Stanford somehow upset Pac-12 South front-runner UCLA.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t want the score of the UCLA-Stanford game to be displayed inside Arizona Stadium, nor did he want updates to leak to the sideline.

His focus was on defeating rival Arizona State in the Territorial Cup — an achievement that eluded him in his first two years with the Wildcats.

The Football Gods were on Arizona’s side — for once — as both objectives, heck, dreams, came true: The Wildcats overcame the Sun Devils and the Cardinal upset the Bruins.

The Wildcats claimed the outright Pac-12 South title and the right to face Oregon in the Pac-12 title game the following week.

True freshman running back Nick Wilson ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns to lift the Wildcats to victory and bury arch-rival ASU’s hopes for a repeat Pac-12 South title.

“Right after the game when I was walking out to shake Coach (Todd) Graham’s hand, I think either my wife or my son said: ‘Did you know UCLA lost?’ ” Rodriguez told the media afterward. “That made me bounce a little more in the air.”

Arizona, 10-2 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12, emerged as champions of the South with big plays and tough defense when it needed it the most.

Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, slowed by an ankle injury most of the second half of the season, threw for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Samajie Grant. Wilson burst to a 72-yard touchdown run in the second half after running for 218 yards in the previous week at Utah.

Arizona’s opportunistic defense scored on the game’s third play (Anthony Lopez’s 25-yard fumble return after All-American linebacker Scooby Wright sacked and stripped starter Taylor Kelly), made a goal-line stand and forced a turnover on downs after Arizona State started its final drive near midfield. The Sun Devils’ hopes ended at the 40-yard with back Mike Bercovici unable to lead one last charge.

“This is what you live for,” said Arizona safety Jourdan Grandon, who had a key interception late.

What makes Arizona’s win over ASU last November stand above the Wildcats’ upset over No. 1 USC in 1981 or the Desert Swarm’s dominance over top-ranked Washington in 1992?

No. 5: Game had exhilarating twists and turns

Arizona’s high-scoring 42-35 victory kept fans on their seat at Arizona Stadium and viewers glued to their flat screens at home.

No lead was too safe.

The game was tied three times and ASU threatened to tie it once again on its final drive that stalled at the Arizona 40.

Arizona produced big plays with Samajie Grant catching two touchdown passes and Nick Wilson running for two scores, one a back-breaking 72-yard run that put Arizona ahead 35-21 in the third quarter.

The Wildcats scored off a fumble recovery on Anthony Lopez’s 25-yard return on the third play of the game. ASU responded with a fumble recovery for a touchdown later in the first quarter.

Both teams capitalized on special teams mistakes to put points on the board in the wild back-and-forth scoring that was like a tennis match.

The game was Arizona’s season in microcosm. Five of the nine conference games came down to the last possession with the outcome decided by a touchdown or less. The win capped a thrilling four-game win streak in November — when a team should enjoy its longest conference winning streak — that put Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

No. 4: Drama involved UCLA’s game against Stanford at same time

Ninth-ranked UCLA was firmly in the driver’s seat, only having to beat struggling Stanford at home to clinch the Pac-12 South title.

Rich Rodriguez claims he kept his players off limits to scoring updates of the game while Arizona played ASU. Arizona officials avoided announcing the score or posting it on the scoreboard.

Stanford (7-5) did the unthinkable, not only defeating UCLA (9-3), but routing them 31-10.

The Cardinal returned the favor from the previous year when Arizona upset Oregon to help them finish atop the Pac-12 North standings.

“We knew that this meant a lot to them, but we wanted to come out and get a win for our seniors, for our team,” said Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who passed for 234 yards. “We haven’t lost to them since we’ve been here, and we wanted to keep that streak going.”

No. 3: Historical perspective reaching 10 wins

The Wildcats captured their third 10-plus-win season in school history (1993 and 1998 were the other years) and they won their 10th regular season game for the second time in program history (1998).

Arizona’s seven conference victories were the most in a single season since it went 7-1 in 1998.

The Wildcats improved to 3-1 against Associated Press Top 25 teams in 2014, including a 2-1 mark during the month of November.

It is the first season since 1998 that the Wildcats recorded three wins against ranked opponents. They also defeated ranked opponents in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2006.

No. 2: The win was against ASU

Let’s face it: Any win over arch-rival ASU is one the Wildcats place above others. This one happened to clinch Arizona’s first outright title.

The Arizona-ASU matchup includes 16 games ranked among the top 50 in the Wildcats’ history, according to my rankings. That’s nearly one out of every three top games was played against the Sun Devils.

Two of the bigger victories, in 1982 and 1985, kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

Finally, Arizona can look back and say the beat the Sun Devils for not only the Territorial Cup but also a Pac-12 South title.

And for Rich Rodriguez, it was an opportunity to counter against his first two losses against Todd Graham, including a 58-21 beat down to the Sun Devils the previous year in Tempe.

No. 1: The win clinched Arizona’s first outright title

It was not the outright Pac-12 championship, putting Arizona in the Rose Bowl.

But it was the next best thing, claiming the title of one of the toughest divisions (Pac-12 South) in college football.

For Arizona to finish 7-2 in the Pac-12 with better records than UCLA, ASU and USC shows how far Rodriguez took the program in such a short time.

Outright championships and Arizona did not mix in the modern era before 2014.

The Wildcats were labeled co-champions of the Pac-10 in 1993 with a 6-2 record but did not represent the conference in the Rose Bowl because it lost to UCLA, which won the tie-breaker.

In 1973, Arizona tied ASU with a 6-1 record in the Western Athletic Conference, but the Sun Devils beat the Wildcats 55-19 that season to claim the tiebreaker. In 1964, the Wildcats finished in a three-way tie for the WAC title with New Mexico and Utah with 3-1 records.

The 1941 team went 5-0 in the Border Conference but was considered co-champs with Texas Tech despite the Red Raiders having a 2-0 record.

The last outright title in Arizona history was in 1935 and 1936 when the Wildcats went 4-0 and 3-0-1, respectively, in the Border Conference with Tex Oliver as coach.

Although Arizona went on to lose big to Oregon in the 2014 Pac-12 title game, the Wildcats can be assured that no asterisk is necessary next to their name in the Pac-12 South standings. They own that division title.


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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