Football NCAA

ASU – A Shocking Upset

After watching my Nittany Lions go down to the Buckeyes, I needed a distraction. I had to get out of the house and forget about the game. Sure, the Lions are still in contention for the Rose Bowl, but another loss to the perennial powerhouse proved that Penn State hasn’t yet reached the pinnacle of the sport (read CFP). Close. But not there just yet.

With the surging #8 ranked Oregon Ducks in town against the Sun Devils, it provided the perfect outlet. It was an early evening game, nationally televised by Herby and Fowler, with great weather, so we decided to make an effort to head down and scalp some tickets.

We scored a parking spot in our secret location and made our way along the light rail tracks towards the stadium. Of course, a photo opportunity presented itself as we passed under A-Mountain. Hey, don’t judge me. It’s a long walk and we needed to hydrate along the way.

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The scalpers were out, but no regular fans trying to dump tickets. The professionals, with about 90 minutes before kickoff, are trying to get the highest prices while at the same time trying to buy from fans trying to unload their extra tickets as they approached the stadium (or bar).

We decided to defer our decision to buy and head to grab a quick board and a beer at Postino – just a short block away from the stadium.

As we noshed, I was checking my phone for tickets via StubHub and I received an email from a friend.  He blasted out an announcement to a blind list saying he was on his way to the stadium and had three extra tickets.  I texted him back a few minutes after he had sent the email and he confirmed! We found our tickets!

They did a great job renovating Sun Devil Stadium. The stadium opened in 1958 with 30,000 seats. Over the years, they added capacity and maxed out at 75,000 seats.  The most recent expansion was to accommodate the St Louis Cardinals after their move to Arizona in 1988 and eventually the Super Bowl in 1996.

When the Cards moved out of the facility in 2006, Sun Devil Stadium was left too large to accommodate, dare I say, a middle-of-the-road football program. It was the 3rd largest stadium in the conference, but it was behind two iconic, multi-purpose venues – UCLA’s Rose Bowl and USC’s LA Memorial Coliseum. By this point, the facility was showing its age and empty seats are never a good look. They started renovations to improve the stadium and at the same time, reduce the capacity. The results have been dramatic. The new-look Sun Devil Stadium is a great place to see a game. *except from the East stands during day games in September. I hope they bring the Cactus Bowl back there soon.

The one area they need to improve are the entry points. A huge sea of humanity that gets choked down to enter the metal detectors.

Oddly, you’re instructed to walk through the detectors with everything out of your pockets – and held your hands. If something beeps, you place everything you’re holding in hands into a bowl held by the waiting security guard on the other side, then walk back out through the detector, then back in. Where they scan your ticket. By this time, my wife and I were separated and she had the tickets.  Oh well. They let me in without a ticket anyway. I thought ASU had a strong logistics program?

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Due to the delays getting in, we barely caught the flyover as we made our way to our seats. The good news is, we were able to catch what I think is the best opening video I’ve ever seen for a sporting event.

Check out the “Stomp the Bus” video they do for each game. You tell me if there’s a better intro video out there.  I’d like to see it.

Sun Devil rarely sells out, but this was definitely one of the more heavily attended games with the highly ranked Ducks coming with the CFP in sight.  Win out and they have a chance to represent the struggling PAC12 in the playoff. Plenty of local Duck fans packed the stands.

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Oregon opened up the scoring on their second possession with an 11-play, 80-yard drive for a TD and you could hear the visiting crowd roar. Not to be outdone, the home team bounced right back with a quick, 4-play 75-yard drive capped by a 57-yard TD pass by ASU’s Freshman Phenom, Jayden Daniels to WR Frank Darby.

ASU added a FG by Christian Zendejas to end the half 10-7 in favor of the Devils. Definitely a low-scoring game for the PAC12.  Oh, and if the Zendehas name sounds familiar, it should. Christian is the son of former Devils Kicker, Luis Zendejas. Luis and his brothers, Max and Joaquin all kicked in the NFL.

The Devils extended the lead with their opening possession of the 2nd half with another Zendejas FG to make it 13-7

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As the 3rd played out, the Devils D was controlling the normally high-powered Ducks offense – led by Justin Herbert. Hebert was touted early in the season as a potential Heisman candidate, but it was the young Daniels that stole the show.

Herbert’s interception deep in his own territory at the start of the fourth quarter opened up the floodgates of a frantic final quarter.

The Devils capitalized on the pick with any other Daniels-Darby 26-yard TD to make it 19-7. After a successful 2-point conversion, the home team was now up two TDs in the fourth quarter – as a 14.5 point underdog!

On the next possession, Herbert was picked AGAIN! This time on 2nd down from his own 28. The Devils once again turned it into points with another Zendejas FG – 24-7 Devils with almost 9:00 to play.

The Ducks weren’t going away just yet. In less than a minute, a 4-play 65-yard quick strike made it 24-14 – and they still had almost 8:00 to play. Would the Devils D be able to hold on?

After a Devils’ 3-out, the Ducks did it again. In :43 they scored again on a 3-play drive of passes all around 20-yards each. This can’t be happening. 24-21 Devils with 5:24 to play.

The Devils started their next drive on their own 25, but a penalty and sack had them facing 3rd-16 from their own 19. Momentum was clearly on Oregon’s side. A punt here would likely lead to at least a tie – maybe a loss. That’s when the student became the master. Daniels threw an absolutely perfect pass, From his own 11, standing still in the pocket, he launched a bomb that landed on the fingertips of Brandon Aiyuk as he got behind the coverage and hauled in the pass at the Oregon 45. From there, Aiyuk won the footrace for an 81-yard dagger.  ASU 31 Oregon 21 – but there was still almost 4:00 to play! Did they score too fast?

Aiyuk’s end-zone celebration cost his team 15-yard on the kickoff and, once again, down 10, the Ducks moved the ball. Another 9-play drive ended with another TD and the Ducks once again closed the gap to just 3.

After the onside kick failed, ASU was able to pick up a first down and run the clock out.

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The students rushed the field to celebrate another upset against a top-ranked opponent. This scene is getting familiar in Tempe. Last year, the Devils took down Washington as the Huskies came to town ranked #5.

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That final single quarter of action had the Devils scoring 25 points and the Ducks responding with 21. A full games’ worth of scoring wrapped up in 15:00 minutes of play. What an exciting ending for the Homecoming crowd.

I have to think Oregon is getting a little worried about coming to the desert. Last year, we drove down to Tucson to see them take on the Wildcats during their Homecoming. The Ducks entered that game at #19 in the country and were dismantled by the Cats, 44-15.

After Friday night’s wrestling upset over #1 ranked, Penn State, I think it’s safe to say the Valley of the Sun became a Happy Valley for a weekend of sports.

Stop wondering. Start wandering!

 

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