Arizona State played the role of spoiler Friday night, ruining a record day for Ka'Deem Carey, an otherwise surprising 7-win Arizona season and Rich Rodriguez's introduction to the in-state rivalry.
The Sun Devils scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to steal back the Territorial Cup on the road with a 41-34 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 51,901 at Arizona Stadium.
It was the fourth consecutive meeting that the road team has won the Duel in the Desert.
ASU (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12 Conference) forced Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott into four turnovers and 20 incomplete passes to disrupt the offense of Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12). The loss now puts the team's bowl picture in a tailspin, with UA now tied in the win column with ASU and Washington.
Bowl pairings will be announced Dec. 2.
"I'm disappointed we lost," Rodriguez said. "I love our kids and I'm really proud of our seniors, but I'm disappointed we lost and the kids are, too, I'm sure."
With less than 9 minutes to play and the Wildcats running the ball effectively with a 27-20 lead, Scott made the mistake of leaving his feet on a rushing attempt and promptly fumbled.
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Arizona State running back Marion Grice, the game's most valuable player, celebrates after one of his three rushing touchdowns.
ASU then handed off to Marion Grice on five of the next six plays including a 4-yard run to cap the running back's three-touchdown effort and tie the game at 27 with 7:17 to play. Groce finished with 156 yards on 18 carries to collect the game's most valuable player honors.
Tied at 27, Kevin Ayers then blocked Kyle Dugandzic's punt attempt and ASU took over on the Arizona 8. The Sun Devils then tacked on Cameron Marshall's 8-yard run on the next play for the go-ahead score and 34-27 lead they would not relinquish.
"This is the game," ASU head coach Todd Graham said. "It is the most important game for us. It was big not only winning, but how we won."
It was a sour end to Scott's final home game, as his last of three interceptions was thrown with Wildcats driving into ASU territory. Robert Nelson picked off the fifth-year senior at the 32 and returned it 66 yards to the Arizona 2 with 3:17 remaining.
Scott completed just 19 of 39 passes for 230 yards and his three touchdown passes were canceled out by three interceptions - and all of four of his turnovers were converted into points.
"Turnovers are huge," said ASU senior linebacker Brandon Magee, who finished with a game-high 17 tackles. "When we get a turnover, the offense has to capitalize and that is exactly what we did. All I can say is that I am so proud of all the interceptions and fumbles that we caused."
Part of UA's problems offensively were compounded by a combination of dropped passes and overthrows. It was only exposed further after senior receiver Dan Buckner left the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return.
In Buckner's place, Garic Wharton finished with game highs of six catches and 89 yards and a score, but it was not enough.
"We didn't have our senior leader out there today," said sophomore Austin Hill, who finished with five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Leading by five at the half, ASU pushed its advantage to 17-9 on the opening drive of the third quarter.
But Scott momentarily shook off a poor first half to respond quickly. Hill, the quarterback's top target this season, hauled in a 22-yard pass for his ninth touchdown catch of the season to pull the 'Cats within 17-16 with 9:22 left in the third.
After an ASU punt, the Wildcats re-took the lead less than 3 minutes later on Wharton's leaping, twisting, 40-yard touchdown reception. A John Bonano fake on the extra point turned into a 2-point conversion and Arizona led 24-17 with 6:23 remaining in the quarter.
The momentum swing did not stop there, as Jake Fischer scooped up the fumble recovery on the Sun Devils' opening play of the next possession. Bonano's 23-yard field goal put UA ahead by 10.
"There were a lot of momentum shifts and it really played a big part of the game," said UA nose tackle Tevin Hood, who led the team with 10 tackles.
The loss marred the night Carey broke Arizona's single-season rushing record.
Carey's first rush of the night on the game's opening play went for 15 yards. His fourth tote of the night put him over the top, gaining four yards to surpass Trung Canidate's mark of 1,602 yards set in 1999. Later in the drive, the running back leaped into the end zone for his first touchdown, a 1-yard score at the 7:59 mark in the quarter.
But an injured collarbone limited the sophomore, who still managed to collect a game-high 172 yards on 25 carries while splitting handoffs with backup Daniel Jenkins. Carey increased his nation-leading rushing total to 1,757 yards.
"He was banged up before the game, then he got banged up even more during the game," Rodriguez said.
The UA defense started strong, forcing three punts in the first quarter and allowing just 60 yards of total offense to the Sun Devils.
With 11:55 to play in the half and the Wildcats past midfield, ASU was able to keep the deficit at 6. Keelan Johnson intercepted Scott at the ASU 25 after the fifth-year senior was pressured and forced an errant throw off his back foot.
The Sun Devils then eventually solved the UA defensive unit, which came into the game allowing 488 yards per game - seventh-worst in the nation. Grice capitalized on the turnover for ASU, weaving through the defense for a 52-yard touchdown run and a 7-6 lead with 9:42 left in the half.
Scott then promptly threw a second consecutive interception to open the ensuing drive, chucking a pass into the waiting arms of Osahon Irabor at the ASU 38. Nine plays later, Grice punched in his second score from the 2, extending the advantage to 14-6 at the 6:16 mark.
"Matt made some good decisions and there are some I'm sure he'd like to have back," Rodriguez said. "But he's a stud. I told him in the locker room that I loved him. I'm proud of the way he's played in every game this year. They just did a good job of getting pressure on us."
The Sun Devils had an opportunity to add to the lead, but receiver Alonzo Agwuenu fumbled at the Arizona 23.
Scott was nearly picked off a third time in the half but a roughing the passer call negated the play. The Wildcats settled for Bonano's 33-yard field goal as time expired to cut the halftime deficit to 14-9.