Many memorable plays occurred during “The Streak” — Arizona’s nine-year unbeaten streak against ASU from 1982 to 1990 — but the one play that put that stretch in microcosm occurred in the 1986 game.
That was the game that included Chuck Cecil’s 106-yard interception return for a touchdown — the best play in Arizona history — but that is not the play that defined “The Streak.”
The play is when ASU got “DeBow-ed.”
It was fitting for Arizona’s surge in the series because cornerback James DeBow stopping an ASU running back 20 pounds bigger at the goal line one-on-one on a fourth-and-goal situation tied into the underdog Wildcats standing up to the Sun Devils in a time when ASU was trying to achieve grand things like a Rose Bowl or unbeaten season as in 1986.
Arizona had enough fight to knock ASU down, the theme of “The Streak.”
The Wildcats’ 34-17 win at Arizona Stadium in 1986 gave ASU its first loss. The Sun Devils finished 10-1-1 after beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
“It was the biggest play I ever made at Arizona,” DeBow, a sophomore, told The Arizona Daily Star after the game. “It may be the biggest play I ever make.”
When ASU got DeBow-ed:
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 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 DeBow’s strength and determination.
On fourth-and-inches, Williams was stopped just short of the goal line by DeBow, a converted running back 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 was like a stalemate until my brain clicks and I told my legs to drive,” DeBow told The Arizona Republic after the game. “I got underneath his shoulder pads. I got leverage and weight does not make any difference.”
The game turned out to be the last for Larry Smith at Arizona Stadium as Arizona’s coach. He would leave for USC after that season.
“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,” Smith said. “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.”
The Territorial Cup adds another chapter Saturday when ASU visits Arizona with the Wildcat seniors playing their last game at home with a chance to become bowl eligible.
UA posted an 8-0-1 record versus ASU from 1982-90, reversing a 2-15 losing record to the Sun Devils from 1965-1981. A look at UA’s streak:
1982: UA 28, ASU 18 (Tucson). Cats keep ASU out of Rose Bowl in coach Larry Smith’s third season.
1983: UA 17, ASU 15 (Tempe). Cats deny ASU likely bowl bid.
1984: UA 16, ASU 10 (Tucson). Max Zendejas kicks 3 FGs, including 52-yarder, to lead UA.
1985: UA 16, ASU 13 (Tempe). Cats keep ASU out of Rose Bowl on Zendejas FG; UA goes to Sun Bowl.
1986: UA 34, ASU 17 (Tucson). James DeBow’s epic stop at the goal line of ASU running back Channing Wllliams on fourth-and-goal. Chuck Cecil returns interception 106 yards for Cats, who go to Aloha Bowl. Devils go on to beat Michigan in Rose Bowl.
1987: UA 24, ASU 24 (Tempe). Cats tie game in final seconds in coach Dick Tomey’s first season.
1988: UA 28, UA 18 (Tucson). Cats knock ASU out of likely bowl.
1989: UA 28, ASU 10 (Tempe). Cats earn Copper Bowl berth, bump ASU out of likely bowl.
1990: UA 21, ASU 17 (Tucson). UA goes to Aloha Bowl.