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October 18, 2009Maintaining its oblong shape, brown complexion and white accents, it looked like any other football as it cut through the warm October air.
Look a little closer, though, and one can sense the ball took on a greater purpose as it left the fingertips of Arizona State senior quarterback Danny Sullivan.
Sure, it carried the fate of Saturday night's contest against Washington, but the ball stood for much more than that; perhaps the reputation of a middling Pac-10 program, the confidence of a quarterback and a team's postseason fate.
Good thing it landed in the hands of senior wide receiver Chris McGaha about 50 yards later, as the Sun Devils claimed a dramatic, last-second 24-17 victory.
"That ball seemed to be in the air for three days," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "I really don't know what happened. I just saw [McGaha] down there by himself and thought, 'That's a hell of a play call, Dennis.'"
Hubris aside, Erickson didn't even know McGaha was in the game. Seriously. Wide receivers coach Eric Yarber made the call, inserting McGaha in for the game's deciding play.
After being bed-ridden all week with the flu, McGaha only played a handful of snaps on Saturday night. And as he astutely pointed out in the post-game press conference, he "only had one catch."
But boy, did it count.
While McGaha was mobbed by his teammates in the end zone, Sullivan looked to his sideline, arms outstretched as to say, 'Did that really happen?'
UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt's arms, meanwhile, told a different story. That's because they were flailing around as he scalded UW safety Nate Williams, presumably for blowing the coverage on McGaha, who ran down the right seam unfettered for the score.
In the post-game press conference, Sullivan admitted he needed to make such a big play for his psyche. Rather than hear a chorus of boos like the last time he played at home, Sullivan exited to chants of 'Dan-ny, Dan-ny.'
Sullivan called it the greatest play of his life.
"That's No.1, by far," he said. "That's No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, maybe."
Had ASU played its cards right earlier in the contest, no such last-second heroics would have been needed. But it made for one hell of an ending.
ASU senior wide receiver Kyle Williams probably cost his team seven points in the second quarter, when he fumbled the ball out of the end zone trying to get extra yards. Junior kicker Thomas Weber also missed two field goals Saturday, in his first game action since the season opener on Sept. 5.
"We left some points out there," Erickson said. "So we had to win it like we won it."
The game got off to an inauspicious start, as UW junior quarterback Jake Locker tossed a 49-yard touchdown pass to cap his team's initial drive.
But the ASU offense was undeterred and answered right back with a quick, eight-play, 79-yard scoring drive to even up the tally.
The Sun Devils went ahead early in the second quarter with the help of some trickery, as Williams took a reverse and then heaved a 32-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver T.J. Simpson.
"We've been practicing that for like two years and oddly enough we finally ran it," Williams said. "I probably shouldn't have thrown that ball, T.J. was covered, but he just made a great play I give all the credit to him. I kind of just put it up there, it was a terrible throw."
Thanks to a consistent effort from Sullivan, ASU pieced together its finest offensive half of the season during the first two quarters on Saturday.
"In the first half, we probably had better rhythm offensively than we've had since I've been here," Erickson said. "We were moving the football good, we were blocking well and some of our young guys were making plays."
Namely, Erickson noted the performance of freshman Jamal Miles, who made a couple of nice plays on bubble screens throughout the course of the evening.
Meanwhile, Locker was busy trying to avoid the ASU defensive line, which was constantly collapsing the pocket and bringing pressure. Erickson said he was proud of the physical nature of his team's play and said he was happy with the way ASU contained Locker.
Sure, Locker extended a few drives by making plays with his feet, but the dual-threat sensation was generally held in check.
After a 24-yard Weber field pushed ASU's lead to 17-7, UW responded with a 72-yard touchdown drive near the end of the third quarter. The drive ended with a 23-yard run from UW redshirt freshman running back Chris Polk, who bounced off a wall of ASU defenders before finding open space down the right sideline.
Erik Folk knocked through a game-tying, 29-yard field goal with 3:50 left in the game, but it was all for naught.