It was one year after ASU’s Rose Bowl appearance. One year after the Sun Devils dismantled UA in Tucson, 56-14. One year after an on-field fourth-quarter melee led to police involvement and multiple ejections.
With an 8-2 record heading into the 1997 Duel in the Desert, the Sun Devils weren’t Rose Bowl bound, but they had a shot at going to the Fiesta Bowl with a second straight win over their rivals.
But the 5-5 Wildcats were a testy bunch heading to Tempe that year, and were looking for some payback for the previous year’s embarrassment.
They got it – thanks, in part, to one of the most controversial plays in rivalry history.
In the second quarter of the ’97 game, UA was already ahead 21-7 and were on the march again. With the ball at the Sun Devil 29 yard line, quarterback Ortege Jenkins was under center calling out the play. But before he snapped the ball, ASU safety Mitchell Freedman jumped offsides – all the way into the Wildcat backfield.
When UA quarterback Ortege Jenkins finally did receive the ball from center, Freedman was still well offsides, and every Sun Devil on the field seemed to assume that the play would be blown dead.
But officials allowed the play to continue – and with the Devils standing around, the Wildcats took full advantage. Jenkins threw a touchdown pass to his wide-open receiver, Brad Brennan.
The Wildcats took a 28-7 lead into halftime and their defense held tight in the second half to secure a 28-16 win and their third straight victory over ASU at Sun Devil Stadium.
Territorial quote: “I remember just getting ready for the game, and the whole thought process is that if we can win this game, we could possibly go to the Fiesta Bowl or another big-time bowl game. But I remember it was just kind of a weird-feeling game. It was kind of tragic how we ended up losing like that.”
-ASU wide receiver Creig Spann (1996-98)
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Shane Dale is the author of, “Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert.”
The 2013 Territorial Cup will be played on November 30, 2013 in Sun Devil Stadium.
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