TEMPE, Ariz. — Todd Graham held the Territorial Cup aloft for all in Sun Devil Stadium to see. The prize for college football’s oldest rivalry was his and so is his job — at least for now.
Demario Richard ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns, Manny Wilkins threw for three more scores, and Arizona State may have saved Graham’s job with a 42-30 victory over rival Arizona on Saturday.
“I know how much this game meant to him and how much this game meant to us,” said Richard, who moved into fifth on Arizona State’s all-time rushing list with 3,152 yards.
Arizona State (7-5, 6-3 Pac-12) came out flat in a game that could determine Graham’s future in the desert, unable to stop the Wildcats and trailing by 10 at halftime.
Once Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate went out with a left shoulder injury, Arizona State roared back in the second half. The Sun Devils turned a blocked punt and an interception into two quick scores to snatch the lead, and Richard made it 35-24 with a 6-yard TD run.
Arizona State had to hold on after that, but now they’re holding the Territorial Cup after getting blown out by Arizona a year ago.
“Really proud of our guys to finish up like that and get that cup back where it belongs,” Graham said. “There’s nothing like winning that thing.”
Tate threw for 132 yards and scored on a 1-yard run in the first half, but was replaced by Brandon Dawkins, returned for one series and sat out the rest of the game.
Arizona (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) appeared to be done without their star quarterback, but Dawkins broke off a 50-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter to cut Arizona State’s lead to 35-30.
The Wildcats appeared to have the lead when Shun Brown returned a punt 74 yards for touchdown. That was called back on a block in the back penalty and Wilkins followed with his second touchdown pass to N’Keal Harry, a 9-yarder that put the Sun Devils up 42-30 and the game out of reach.
“We didn’t play,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We just needed to play.”
Arizona won last year’s game by ditching its usual no-huddle offense, running away from the Sun Devils for a school-record 511 yards rushing and 56-35 victory.
Back to the no-huddle, Arizona marched against Arizona State’s defense without much resistance, gaining 251 yards while building a 24-14 halftime lead.
Arizona State’s fortunes changed quickly in the second half after Tate was injured.
Arizona went three and out in its first series, Curtis Hodges blocked the punt after Jake Glatting dropped the snap, and Richard scored on a 1-yard run to cut Arizona’s lead to 24-21.
“A Division I team and we can’t punt? We can’t catch a snap and punt the ball? It’s unfathomable,” Rodriguez said.
Once on the verge of being blown out, the Sun Devils suddenly had a 28-24 lead.
Arizona State closed out the comeback victory with a goal-line stand with 2 minutes left and Richard broke off a 63-yard run the next play.
Arizona was great with Tate, but struggled once he went out.
Arizona State rallied after an uninspired first half to perhaps give Graham a bit of job security.
Harry was not a big part of Arizona State’s game plan in the first half, his first touch a punt return in the second quarter. He had some huge catches for the Sun Devils, though, extending a drive with a third-down catch in the third quarter and the two TDs. He finished with four catches for 43 yards.
Glatting’s dropped snap and the blocked punt were not Arizona’s only issues on the punt team. Josh Pollack dropped a snap that result in a near-whiff — Arizona recovered after it hit an Arizona State player — and the Wildcats even turned to back-up tight end Trevor Wood for one kick.
Arizona will play in a bowl game, though not as big of one had it beaten Arizona State.
Arizona State is headed to a bowl game for the fifth time in six seasons under Graham.