3:00 PM ET, November 26, 2004
Arizona Stadium, TUCSON, AZ
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Mike Stoops struggled through a difficult first year as coach at Arizona. He's 1-0, though, in the game that matters most.
Redshirt freshman Richard Kovalcheck threw three touchdown passes -- two to Mike Jefferson -- and the Wildcats turned five takeaways into 24 points to stun Arizona State (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today; No. 18 AP) 34-27 on Friday.
"Finally, we showed we can do something offensively," said Stoops, who was his brother Bob's co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma. "We attacked in a lot of ways."
Andrew Walter, the Sun Devils' record-breaking senior quarterback, left the game with an injury to his right shoulder with 7:30 remaining and his team trailing 34-20.
"His right shoulder was driven into the ground," Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said. "It's a shoulder separation of some sort, but I don't know the degree."
Mike Bell rushed for 139 yards on 21 carries for the Wildcats (3-8, 2-6 Pac-10), who averaged 13 points per game going into the contest -- last among 117 Division I-A teams. The victory snapped an 18-game losing streak against ranked teams for Arizona.
"They kind of underestimated us, thinking we were a team that was going downhill," Bell said. "But we always kept fighting. Coach kept us positive. No matter what the situation was, we were going down fighting."
Arizona State (8-3, 5-3) lost four fumbles and had one interception to help Arizona reach a season-high point total.
"It's a no-brainer," Koetter said. "You're not going to beat anybody turning it over five times."
The loss probably won't affect Arizona State's chances for the Holiday Bowl, said bowl representative Larry Baber. The Sun Devils are expected to receive the invitation if No. 1 Southern California plays in the Orange Bowl and No. 4 California in the Rose Bowl.
Four Arizona State defensive players were benched for portions of the game for violating team rules. Koetter wouldn't identify them. But safety Ricardo Stewart admitted he was one of them, and said the violation was "for something goofy that we did."
Stewart and linebacker Justin Burks didn't play in the first quarter, and linebacker Dale Robinson didn't play in the second. It was unclear who the fourth player might have been.
"That's unfortunate, but when you violate team rules, there's a price to be paid, even if it puts our team at risk," Koetter said, "and it definitely did today."
Kovalcheck -- 17-of-31 for 239 yards, with one interception -- had touchdown passes of 54, 2 and 47 yards. The 47-yarder to Jefferson down the right sideline put the Wildcats up 34-20 with 9:32 to play.
"We've definitely started the foundation" for the Stoops era, Kovalcheck said. "We came out with everyone determined to win, to have something to take home after everything we've done this season."
Stewart slipped, allowing Steve Fleming to break free for a 54-yard touchdown pass in the first half.
"Just making a few plays can make all the difference in the world in games," Stoops said. "And that's what our kids did today."
Walter, the Pac-10 record holder with 85 career touchdown passes, was 23-for-38 for 320 yards but no scores in his final regular-season game. He was injured when he scrambled, went into a slide and his shoulder slammed into the ground at the Arizona 40. He returned to Tempe, where further tests were planned on Saturday.
Backup Sam Keller came on and completed five straight passes, the last one 3 yards to Jamaal Lewis for a touchdown to make it 34-27 with 5:05 to go. Arizona State got the ball back with 2½ minutes to play, and Keller threw 42 yards to Moey Mutz as the Wildcats drove to the Arizona 23.
But ASU lost a down on an intentional grounding penalty, and on fourth-and-10 from the 23, Matt Miller dropped Keller's pass to clinch the victory for Arizona.
The Wildcats, two-touchdown underdogs, led 20-17 at the half on Kovalcheck's 2-yard touchdown pass to Jefferson with 7 seconds left.
On its first possession of the third quarter, Arizona State drove to the Arizona 9, but Hakim Hill fumbled into the end zone and Kirk Johnson recovered for a touchback. Johnson had two fumble recoveries in the game.
Arizona took over, and Bell ran 57 yards to the Arizona State 21. Three plays later, Gilbert Harris ran 6 yards for the score and Arizona led 27-17 with 9:53 left in the third.
Nick Folk kicked field goals of 23 and 53 yards -- the longest by an Arizona kicker in nine years.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||8-15||5-15|
|4th Down Conversions||0-2||0-0|
|FG||10:02||JESSE AINSWORTH 21 YD FG|
Drive info: 13 plays, 78 yards.
|FG||5:27||NICHOLAS FOLK 53 YD FG|
Drive info: 12 plays, 44 yards.
|TD||0:32||HAKIM HILL 1 YD RUN (JESSE AINSWORTH KICK)|
Drive info: 2 plays, 7 yards.
|TD||11:01||STEVE FLEMING 54 YD PASS FROM RICHARD KOVALCHECK (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 49 yards.
|FG||6:14||NICHOLAS FOLK 23 YD FG|
Drive info: 7 plays, 18 yards.
|TD||4:16||JIMMY VERDON 24 YD DEFENSIVE FUMBLE RETURN (JESSE AINSWORTH KICK)||17||13|
|TD||0:07||MIKE JEFFERSON 2 YD PASS FROM RICHARD KOVALCHECK (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 52 yards.
|TD||9:53||GILBERT HARRIS 6 YD RUN (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 80 yards.
|FG||14:11||JESSE AINSWORTH 36 YD FG|
Drive info: 11 plays, 76 yards.
|TD||9:32||MIKE JEFFERSON 47 YD PASS FROM RICHARD KOVALCHECK (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 1 plays, 47 yards.
|TD||5:05||JAMAAL LEWIS 3 YD PASS FROM SAM KELLER (JESSE AINSWORTH KICK)|
Drive info: 13 plays, 80 yards.