The Gomez Files: Derek Hagan Is The Man

Oct. 18, 2003

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Junior quarterback Andrew Walter's postgame comments forsophomore wide receiver Derek Hagan rang truer than any others possibly couldafter Arizona State's dramatic victory Saturday at North Carolina.

'You're the man! You're the man! You're the man!' Walter exclaimed as thevictorious Sun Devils waltzed off the Kenan Memorial Stadium field following oneof the more memorable finishes in school history.

Trailing by four points with 36 seconds remaining, ASU drove 61 yards in sixplays to sneak past North Carolina 33-31, igniting a scene of maroon and goldeuphoria before a near-capacity crowd in a place known as 'God's country.'

The most vivid play in the unforgettable scoring drive was Walter's 5-yardtouchdown pass to senior wide receiver Skyler Fulton, whose feet graced thecorner of the end zone slightly in front of an orange pylon.

But Hagan was the one who provided a reason for celebration, turning a simplepass-and-catch across the middle into a 42-yard gain that enabled the SunDevils to complete the come-from-behind win.

'The whole time, we knew the middle of the field was going to be wide open,so I just caught the ball and happened to make something happen,' said Hagan,who set career highs with 11 receptions and 185 receiving yards.

Throughout the afternoon, Hagan had played an integral part in an ASU offensethat amassed 598 total yards, enabling him to easily find a seam in NorthCarolina's prevent defense on the final drive.

Upon cleanly catching the strike from Walter, Hagan turned up the field andwas greeted with more greenery than what's found on the picturesque Chapel Hillcampus. He sprinted toward the sideline before being brought down inside thered zone as the Sun Devil bench erupted in cheers.

'I double-clutched, but was able to get it to him,' Walter said of the passto Hagan. 'If he hadn't caught it on his back shoulder, he wouldn't have made aplay. He wouldn't have gotten us down there to make the touchdown. Thatdoesn't have anything to do with me.'

Hagan said he was trying to score, even though he figured he wasn't fastenough to outrun North Carolina's secondary. He knew his mad dash had given histeam at least a few cracks at the end zone, but he also felt bad about notgetting out of bounds with no timeouts left.

'If he had any speed, he could have scored right there,' ASU head coach DirkKoetter said jokingly. 'I told him he played a great game, but that he shouldhave had two more touchdowns if he had any speed.'

After Walter spiked the ball on first down and couldn't connect with Fultonon second down, Hagan became the primary target on the game's deciding play.Hagan was covered in the flat, but Fulton was open on a fade route to the cornerof the end zone and Walter's throw was as good as gold.

'We've got three or four wideouts who can all step up and do the same thinganytime,' Hagan said. 'It's better to have three or four wideouts instead ofthe defense focusing on one.'

Over the last three games, Hagan has caught 26 passes for 463 yards, the beststretch by any Sun Devil receiver this season. His 38 receptions and 576receiving yards through the first seven games are more than he had during hisentire freshman campaign.

Hagan wasted little time getting involved Saturday, scoring on a 49-yardtouchdown reception from Walter on a post route down the sideline. He caught theball at the 18-yard line, then sidestepped two North Carolina defenders andfought his way into the end zone.

'Is D-Hag for real?' Fulton questioned after learning of Hagan's 185receiving yards. 'All the plays that D-Hag is making ... when I see hiim make plays, thatmakes me say, 'Oh, I've got to go make a play now.' Against UCLA, I'm goingto have to come back hard, make some plays and catch back up to him.'

After North Carolina regained the lead late in the first quarter, Hagan madehis presence felt again by sealing a block that allowed freshman tailbackLoren Wade to sprint down the sideline for a 35-yard gain. He later helped the SunDevils draw even when he caught a screen pass and scored a two-pointconversion that came on the heels of Walter's 11-yard strike to Fulton.

On his team's ensuing possession, Hagan hauled in a 20-yard reception onthird-and-9 to help the Sun Devils advance inside the North Carolina 5-yard line.The drive stalled because of two penalties, but freshman place-kicker JesseAinsworth drilled a 21-yard field goal to give ASU a 17-14 lead with 6:27remaining in the second quarter.

'The whole game, all these penalties were being called, but we didn't letthose penalties get to us,' Hagan said. 'We just kept playing through and keptfighting.'

The Sun Devils looked as if they were going to stand pat and take athree-point lead into the locker room before Hagan recovered a fumble on a punt, givinghis team the ball deep in North Carolina territory. Hagan's 6-yard catch onthird-and-5 moved the ball to the 1-yard line, but ASU was denied on threestraight plays, setting up a 24-yard field goal by Ainsworth as the first-halfhorn sounded.

The Tar Heels drew within three points on the opening possession of thesecond half, but the Sun Devils answered less than seven minutes later whensophomore tailback Hakim Hill scored on an 8-yard touchdown run. On the 77-yarddrive, Hagan maneuvered through a pair of North Carolina defenders to catch a24-yard pass from Walter on a hitch-and-go pattern down the sideline.

'Everybody played great, not just me,' Hagan said. 'The defense didn't giveup after all the penalties and stuff. Nobody gave up. It was a team efforttoday.'

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu.

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