TEMPE, Ariz. — The often remarkable, sometimes stunning and occasionally rhapsodic rivalry week is on us again.
Whether maroon and gold or red and blue is the wardrobe choice, one fact is undeniable: The Territorial Cup runneth over with the unexpected.
Since the then-Pac-10 expanded to add Arizona and Arizona State in 1978, the teams have not gone more than six years without an upset.
The ranked team is 5-5 in games in which the other is unranked. The one time both were ranked, in 1986, the lower-ranked team won. The team with fewer victories entering the game has won 14 times, including each of the last three years. A two-win Arizona team beat an eight-win Arizona State team in Tucson in 2004.
There has been no home-field advantage to speak of, maybe because the 100-mile trip down I-10 is so familiar to both. The home team has won but 15 of the 35 games, with the road team winning 19. The teams played to a 24-24 tie in 1987, a game that capped Arizona’s year perfectly. The Wildcats had neither a winning nor a losing season, finishing 4-4-3 in Dick Tomey’s first year.
Frank Kush, Larry Smith, Bruce Snyder and Tomey have done their best work during their time in this state, and sometimes in this game. Smith twice beat nine-win ASU teams before leaving for Southern California after the second one, in 1986. Snyder and Tomey each had 10-win seasons and top -10 teams here. The legendary Kush was 16-5 in the series, leading ASU to 13 victories in his last 14 games before his departure in 1979.
So … wait for it … you can throw out the record book when these teams meet.
With that in mind, here is one man’s list of the greatest upsets in the series since the teams joined the Pac-12.
ARIZONA 28, No. 6 ARIZONA STATE 18
Nov. 27, 1982, Tucson
The Sun Devils (9-1) entered the game needing a victory to clinch a Rose Bowl appearance in their fifth season in a new league after dominating the WAC. Linebacker Vernon Maxwell anchored a ferocious defense that was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and ASU seemed so sure of victory that it wore its home maroon jerseys, forcing Arizona (5-4-1) to wear its road whites.
ASU had won 15 of the last 17 games in the series, a streak mostly overseen by Kush that included a 44-7 victory in Tempe in 1981, the only game UA linebacker Ricky Hunley missed in his All-American career.
“It was bad. It was really bad,” Hunley later told John Moredich of the Tucson Citizen. “They rubbed it in. They were beating us down.”
Arizona quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe had been intercepted five times the previous week, when the Wildcats lost to previously winless Oregon in Eugene. Arizona had shown signs, however, having beaten No. 9 Notre Dame and tied No. 8 UCLA — both on the road — in early October.
Tunnicliffe stunned the blitz-happy Sun Devils with a 92-yard touchdown pass to Brian Holland to break a scoreless tie early in the second quarter, and he threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Brad Anderson late in the period. Holland scored again after a fumble, and UA led 26-0. Darryl Clack scored twice in the third and fourth quarters, but Arizona’s lead was too large to overcome.
“The U of A just flat out kicked our tail and whipped us on the lines,” ASU coach Darryl Rogers said.
UCLA went to the Rose Bowl, ASU went to the Fiesta, and Arizona did not lose again in the series until 1991.
ARIZONA 16, No. 20 ARIZONA STATE 13
Nov. 23, 1985, Tempe
A trip to the Rose Bowl was on the line for Arizona State (8-2) for the second time in four years, but once again, Arizona found a way to turn the dream into a nightmare. After UCLA lost to USC that afternoon, all Arizona State needed was a tie to secure a trip to Pasadena. But new coach John Cooper did not play it that way.
In the first half, Cooper turned down a chance at a 34-yard field goal when the Sun Devils reached the Arizona 8-yard line with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, and quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst was intercepted on the next play to keep the game 3-3 at halftime.
Arizona (7-3) trailed 13-3 in the third period before linebacker Byron Evans, who played at Phoenix South Mountain, stripped the ball from ASU punt returner Anthony Parker at the UA 16 and Don Be’Ans recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Wildcats appeared to miss a chance to tie the game when Max Zendejas missed a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but the play was nullified when Arizona was penalized for a dead-ball foul. Given another chance, Zendejas drilled a 57-yarder to tie the game at 13 with 5:29 left
ASU took over and got a first down, needing only to kill the final 3 1/2 minutes for the tie it needed. Instead, after another running play, Van Raaphorst dropped to pass on second down and was stripped of the ball by Stanley Mataele, who recovered at ASU’s 20.
Zendejas kicked a 32-yard field goal with 1:32 remaining, and that was that. ASU (5-2), UA (5-2) and UCLA (6-2) finished tied for first place, as the league played an unbalanced schedule that year, and UCLA made the Rose Bowl because it beat both Arizona schools.
“Would I go for a tie this time? Yes, sir. I’m smarter now,” Cooper told the The Los Angeles Times after the season. “It was a good ballgame, and we played pretty well. But people around here say you’ve got to do two things — beat the U of A and go to the Rose Bowl.”
ARIZONA STATE, 7, No. 16 ARIZONA 6
Nov. 22, 1992, Tucson
This was to be ASU halfback Mario Bates’ breakout season. It turned into Kevin Galbreath’s career night.
Bates, a sophomore from Tucson Amphitheater High, rushed for 214 yards in the season opener against Washington, tied for the 10th-best single-game total in school history. He seemed to be an ideal fit in coach Bruce Snyder’s system, which featured the “counter trey” running play popularized in the NFL by Washington coach Joe Gibbs, a power run over tackle that was hard to stop.
Bates had 441 yards in the first three games of the season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss at Nebraska, forcing ASU to turn to Plan B. Jerone Davison became the starting halfback at that point and finished with a team-high 734 yards rushing.
But when the Sun Devils (5-5) faced the UA’s vaunted Desert Swarm defense in the final game of the regular season, Snyder turned to Plan C, putting the ball in senior running back Galbreath’s hands 17 times.
“There is something to be said for showing up, working hard and doing what you are asked to do,” Snyder later said about Galbeath, who did not have a single carry in 1991.
Arizona, which led the nation in rushing defense entering the game, had given up only 37 yards on 23 carries before Galbreath took a handoff off right tackle at his 49-yard line and turned it into the only touchdown of the game, a 51-yard run. It was the first and only time Arizona State, which had 191 yards total offense, crossed midfield.
UA kicker Steve McLaughin was short on a 57-yard field goal later in the fourth quarter, and quarterback George Malauulu was sacked on fourth down in the final two minutes. The Wildcats threw an interception and fumbled inside the ASU 5-yard line twice in the first half.
ARIZONA STATE 30, ARIZONA 29
Dec. 2, 2010, Tucson
Both starting quarterbacks — Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Arizona’s Nick Foles — have since moved on to the NFL. So has Foles’ favorite target, wide receiver Juron Criner, who caught two touchdown passes in the game to give the Wildcats an early 14-6 lead.
But more than anything, this game will be remembered as the day when James Brooks was assured of never having to buy another brew in the city of Tempe for the rest of his life by blocking two point-after kicks.
Brooks blocked Alex Zendejas’ extra-point attempt with 27 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime after Foles hit David Douglas on a 5-yard touchdown pass that appeared put Arizona (7-4) in position to break its three-game losing streak after starting the season 7-1.
Thomas Weber — whose five field goals tied a school record also held by Luis Zendejas, Alex’s uncle — and Zendejas kicked field goals in the first overtime, and Weber made the extra point after a Cameron Marshall touchdown run in the second overtime before Brooks literally came up big again.
After Douglas scored on a 9-yard run, Brooks rose up from the middle of the defensive line to get a hand on Zendejas’ PAT and preserve ASU’s one-point victory.
“All week we watched film, and his trajectory was low,” Brooks said. “We knew if we got a good push in the front and jump high, we could get a block. I happened to get two.”
Said Arizona coach Mike Stoops: “Alex did the best he could, and that’s good enough for me. Life has a way of evening out. I wanted to go for two. I should have gone with my gut and stuck with it.”
ARIZONA 28, No. 12 ARIZONA STATE 16
Nov. 28, 1997, Tempe
Arizona State had won five games in a row by an average of 17 points and was squarely on the hometown Fiesta Bowl’s radar this year, a season after its Jake Plummer/Pat Tillman-led run to the Rose Bowl that finished about a minute short of a national championship in a late loss to Ohio State in Pasadena.
ASU (8-2) had routed UA 56-14 in Tucson the previous year, but this time the Wildcats got off to an early start behind redshirt freshman quarterback Ortege Jenkins, who began the season as a wide receiver with returnee Keith Smith entrenched at quarterback.
Jenkins threw for three touchdowns and 182 of his 194 yards in the first half. His last, to Brad Brennan, made it 28-7 at the break. An ASU defensive back jumped offside on the play, and UA players also moved, but no flag was thrown and Brennan broke for the end zone and scored.
“I was telling them to go, go. That was a gift,” Jenkins said afterward. “As long as the whistle doesn’t blow, we keep playing. I threw it to him. He was wide open. I’ll take the free stuff any time.”
Smith had thrown a touchdown pass earlier in the half on a trick play for a 14-0 lead. Jenkins went in motion and the ball was snapped directly to Smith, who had lined up at tailback. Smith also threw an 8-yard pass to Paul Shields 11 minutes into the game.
ASU played most of the way without starting quarterback Ryan Kealy, the successor to Plummer. Steve Campbell replaced Kealy following an injury in the second quarter. Campbell threw a touchdown pass to Ricky Boyer in the first half but was intercepted three times, twice in the fourth quarter.
“It feels so rewarding to win up here, especially after last year,” Smith said. “We don’t care about what bowl they (ASU) go to; it was all about beating ASU. That was our bowl game.”
ASU beat Iowa in the Sun Bowl and Arizona beat New Mexico in the Insight.com Bowl.