Sun Devils Slip Up At Holiday Bowl

Dec 28, 2002

As the season progressed to the 14th game of the year for Arizona State, doubters of the team-picked to finish ninth in the preseason Pac-10 poll-were many. The Sun Devils (8-6, 5-3) traveled to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl as the biggest underdogs of the bowl season against the No. 6 Kansas State Wildcats (11-2). Exactly four weeks earlier, ASU snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Arizona 34-20 in Tucson to regain the Territorial Cup, while K-State came into the game having outscored their last five opponents 253-30. Despite all the negative talk coming from the critics and the naysayers, the Sun Devils did their part to maintain what has become a Holiday Bowl tradition of producing some of the most exciting postseason battles on an annual basis.

'I was pretty irritated because coming out here, we were the biggest underdog in any bowl game being played,' ASU quarterback Andrew Walter said. 'It was fuel for the fire.'

Although they were facing the best defense in the country, which conceded more than 20 points in a game only once during the season, the Sun Devils put up 27 points and never trailed until the final 75 seconds of the contest. The college football postseason's supposed biggest blowout waiting to happen turned into one of its best games. K-State's last strike with just over a minute to go made the decisive difference 34-27 in favor of the Wildcats, but the final result could have gone either way. In the end, it was Kansas State's sixth straight win, giving the Wildcats 11 wins for the fifth time in six seasons. Nevertheless, the Arizona State squad could hold their heads high following a game, and a season, where they had proven their mettle.'I thought we did a good job against the No. 1 defense (in the nation),' said ASU tackle Regis Crawford. 'We stepped up to the challenge. I think we opened some people's eyes.'

Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder would agree, saying, 'Their preparation for us was as good as anybody's at any time.'

First quarter jitters may have gotten the best of both teams, as the opening period mainly featured the exchanging of punts and no scoring. ASU came out with a 4-3 defensive lineup instead of their usual 4-2-5 scheme in order to keep K-State's vaunted running attack under wraps, and it proved to be effective. After an initial ASU punt, a confused Wildcat offense went three-and-out in their first possession and the battle was on.

Arizona State receiver Justin Taplin is held up by teammate Mike Pinkard after scoring the first Arizona State touchdown during the second quarter.

'I thought the best part of our game plan was the way the defensive coaches changed up,' ASU Head Coach Dirk Koetter said. 'We had to stop the run...and we did keep them off-balance most of the game.'

The remainder of the first quarter proved to be a defensive struggle, with the final play of the opening session providing a familiar sight to all Maroon and Gold fans; a Terrell Suggs sack. Suggs, a constant thorn in the Wildcats' side all game long, wrapped up Ell Roberson for an 11-yard loss on the KSU five-yard line to put an exclamation point on the Sun Devils first quarter defensive performance. Suggs was ultimately named the Holiday Bowl's defensive player of the game for continually tormenting the Wildcat o-line and incessantly harassing Roberson.

To the surprise of almost 60,000 in Qualcomm Stadium and a national television audience, the Cats started the second quarter with a total of minus-five yards rushing and had not advanced the ball past their own 33-yard line. Yet, what the first quarter lacked in offensive punch for both teams would more than be made up in the second quarter with 34 points about to be put up on the scoreboard. After the Suggs sack on the previous play, Roberson threw an incomplete pass to bring up fourth down on KSU's own five yard line. Travis Brown's punt traveled only 35 yards, giving the Sun Devils what would be their second of six consecutive possessions to start in Wildcat territory. The Sun Devils would score the first points of the game just over three minutes later on a six-yard TD pass to Justin Taplin from Walter. Mike Barth's extra point capped the short drive in which the Devils converted on two third-down situations.

Greg Pieratt's ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback, but Kansas State couldn't jump-start their offense on the resulting possession as Arizona State linebacker Mason Unck forced a Roberson fumble on the first play which Brian Montesanto recovered for ASU. That was Unck's sixth forced fumble for the season and was part of a monster game where he also recorded 15 tackles.

With Walter set to take the first snap from the Wildcat 16-yard line, K-State Coach Bill Snyder needed his nation-leading defense to step up in order not to go down by two touchdowns; and they did. The Devils gained seven yards on three plays and settled for a Barth field goal to go up 10-0.

At this point, the game was over twenty minutes old, and the Wildcats had still not penetrated into the ASU side of the field. KSU needed a spark, and they found it in Terence Newman. The man voted as the best defensive back in college football lent his talents to the K-State offense, and his 36-yard reception on the second play of the possession finally got the Cats out of their own half. On the next play, running back Darren Sproles scampered 41 yards to put his team on the board, and Joe Rheem's extra point made the scoreline 10-7.

After two more punts were exchanged, the exact same sequence of ASU touchdown, KSU fumble, ASU field goal, KSU touchdown would occur again before halftime. Hakim Hill started it off by scoring on a nine-yard run to the outside on a third-and-one, making it 17-7 after Barth's extra point. ASU safety Jason Shivers then forced a Darren Sproles fumble two plays later at the KSU 27-yard line and Brett Hudson recovered for Arizona State.

Once again it was outstanding starting position for ASU and once again the K-State defense held the Sun Devils to a Barth field goal, which made it 20-7 with 1:25 remaining in the first half.

K-State's explosiveness would be evident again, as the Wildcats answered with a 31-second drive, capped by a 32-yard touchdown run by Roberson. Rheem's extra point narrowed the Sun Devil lead to 20-14 going into the locker room.

The flow of the second half to come would almost mirror the first half; a scoreless third quarter and a wild final period. The second half began with Suggs again creating problems for the K-State offense, and on the fourth play of the opening drive, Suggs sacked Roberson once more, this time for a 10-yard loss. His NCAA single-season record for sacks was extended to 24 and he now totaled 31.5 tackles for loss on the season.The only scoring opportunity for either squad in the third quarter was a 51-yard field goal attempt from ASU's Barth with 4:29 to go that was just short. The subsequent possession for the Wildcats spilled over into the fourth quarter and would knot the game at 20 apiece.

'We put ourselves in a position to win and we just didn't do it. It hurts, but we'll be all right.'
-- ASU's Terrell Suggs

Starting at his own 35-yard line, Ell Roberson would engineer a 16 play, 65 yard, seven-minute and thirteen-second drive that would end with Kansas State's first of three touchdowns in the final period. Roberson himself would score the first on a three-yard run to tie the game, and it would stay 20-20 as the snap for the extra point attempt was fumbled.

The Sun Devils had an immediate reply with a perfectly executed scoring drive of their own, going 78 yards in only 1:46. Andrew Walter, who would use five different receivers in the eight play drive, went to the air right away and hit Mike Pinkard for 33 yards, taking the Sun Devils to the Wildcat 45. After one incompletion, Walter hit Shaun McDonald, Matt Miller and Hakim Hill on consecutive passes to march ASU inside the red zone to the KSU 16-yard line. Two plays later and the Maroon and Gold were back on top with a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Mike Williams. A Mike Barth extra point made the difference 27-20 with 10:30 remaining in the contest.

Kansas State would then answer back straightaway with another Ell Roberson score after an 11 play, 80-yard drive, which included a crucial fourth-and-10 conversion. After a third down on which the Cats lost four yards, they called two timeouts preceding the critical play, and subsequently converted a 21-yard pass to James Terry, advancing them down to the ASU one-yard line. Two plays later, the third Roberson tally of the game and a Joe Rheem extra point deadlocked the score at 27 with 6:41 to go.

'I had to get rid of it faster than I wanted to,' Roberson said of the fourth down conversion. 'I just laid it up there and he made a great catch.'

Arizona State was then forced to punt after four plays and the Wildcats' ever dangerous Terence Newman, who had been held at bay all evening on kick returns due to excellent Sun Devil special teams play, found a little daylight after receiving the punt and brought the ball back to the ASU 49. There was a KSU holding penalty called at the end of the run, taking the Cats back to their own 41, but they still had good field position with a little over four minutes remaining.

The Wildcats would make it three touchdowns on three straight possessions, with Roberson hooking up with Derrick Evans for a 10-yard scoring pass with only 1:15 left on the clock. Rheem's extra point made the difference 34-27.

Walter quickly managed to move ASU into K-State territory, converting a fourth-down situation on the way, but his Hail Mary pass as time expired was broken up by KSU's Travon Magee. The Wildcats, the highest ranked team in the nation to not make it into a BCS game, took home the win, though all in the stadium surely realized that the game could have swung either way, including K-State All-American Terence Newman.'They're a great team,' Newman acknowledged after the game. 'They're right there with the best we've played this year.'

To keep K-State's stifling defense in check, Sun Devil Quarterback Andrew Walter ultimately completed passes to ten different receivers on the evening, racking up 28 completions and 293 yards in the air; no player had put numbers that big against the Wildcats in 2002. The marquee matchup between KSU's Jim Thorpe Award winner Terence Newman and ASU's Biletnikoff Award finalist Shaun McDonald was memorable, with McDonald coming away with 114 yards receiving on 11 catches. That was tied for the highest number of receptions that the Wildcats had given up to one player all year.

Dirk Koetter fully expected the gutsy performance by his troops. 'We came here to win, not play Kansas State close,' Koetter said. 'We've come a long way as a program.'

Game notes: Terrell Suggs' two sacks gave him 24 on the year, extending his ASU, Pac-10 and NCAA records...Those sacks also figured into his total of 31.5 tackles for loss on the year, also ASU, Pac-10 and NCAA records...Andrew Walter's 293 passing yards gave him 3,877 passing yards on the year, 999 yards more than the previous ASU record for a season...Shaun McDonald's 114 yards receiving gave him a total of 1,405 receiving yards for the year, a new ASU record...Also gave him a career total of 2,867, good for second all-time in the Sun Devil record books...Mason Unck's forced fumble gave him six for the year, tying him with Suggs and two others for the most in the Pac-10 in 2002...Numerous ASU individual bowl game records were broken including: passing attempts (Walter, 57); pass completions (Walter, 28); receptions (McDonald, 11); punt returns (Justin Taplin, 7); kickoff returns (Josh Golden, 5); and kickoff return yards (Golden, 114)...McDonald also put himself first in school history for career receptions in bowl games with 15... He now ranks fourth all-time in school history for career receiving yards in bowl games (175)...Walter put himself fifth in the Sun Devil record book for career yards passing in a bowl game (293)...Placekicker Mike Barth is now second all-time in the ASU annals for career points scored by kicking in bowl games with 17 (4 FG, 5 PATs)...Sun Devil team bowl records that were set included passing attempts (57), completions (28) and punt returns (7)...Team bowl records that were tied included touchdowns (3) and fewest fumbles lost (0)...Walter's 28 completions and 293 yards were the highest totals surrendered by K-State all season in either category...McDonald's 11 receptions were tied for the most receptions by an individual against K-State all season...Mike Barth was only the second player all season to kick more than one field goal against the Wildcats...The Sun Devils 19 first downs were the most gained against the Wildcats all year.

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