Arizona played its best game of the year and the effort helped the Wildcats turn back No. 18-ranked Arizona State, 37-24, and give the Wildcats the coveted possession of the Territorial Cup.
A season-best crowd of 55,095 and a national television audience on Fox Sports Net watched UA redshirt freshman quarterback Richard Kovalcheck match wits with ASU's heralded senior, Andrew Walter, and come out on the winning side with three touchdown throws.
"I think we showed our true colors tonight," UA head coach Mike Stoops said. "This was a game where we played more confidently.
"Richard had one two two bad plays during the game. He responded well and came back. He has grown up a lot, but still has a long way to go," Stoops said. "This is a good way to go into the offseason."
Kovalcheck, picked the game's Most Valuable Player by the media, completed 17 or 31 throws for 239 yards and three touchdowns, Walter completed 23 of his 38 passes for 320 yards. Each suffered an interception.
Walter was knocked from the game on a hard tackle in the fourth quarter and gave way to sophomore Sam Keller, who led the Devils on one drive to pull within a touchdown late in the game but had a fourth-down throw for a potential conversion dropped near the UA 10 yard-line with about 90 seconds left in the game.
Arizona scored 24 points after four of the Sun Devils' five turnovers (four fumbles lost and the interception), and scored the the go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter after an ASU field goal attempt was blocked. That tally put the Cats up 20-17, the first time the team had led at the half since September. The Cats led Northern Arizona 7-0 in the season opener Sept. 4 and led Wisconsin 7-0 on Sept. 18.
All but 10 of the 37 points scored by both teams in the first half were set up by mistakes, with Arizona scoring a touchdown and a field goal after two fumble recoveries, and ASU picking up a field goal after an interception and returning a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown.
The Cats were stopped on their first possession of the second half, but after a third of the four fumble recoveries, this one grabbed by Kirk Johnson after a hit by Antoine Cason forced Sun Devil tailback Hakim Hill to lose the ball and fumble it into the endzone. The Cats mounted n 80-yard drive, sparked by a 57-yard run by Mike Bell, and extended their lead to 27-17.
UA's last score was set up by an ASU fumble in the fourth quarter, giving UA possession near midfield. Kovalcheck connected for a quick-strike score, hitting Mike Jefferson with a 47-yard pass on the Cats' first play. Earlier, the sophomore receiver had grabbed a two-yard TD throw from Kovalcheck on the go-ahead drive.
Arizona had a season-high 398 total yards in offense to ASU's 504. UA junior tailback Bell was the game's leading rusher, accumulating 139 yards on 23 carries to give him a career-high 950 yards in 2004.
Kovalcheck's three touchdown passes were the most for UA since Jason Johnson connected four times against California in November 2002.
Arizona closed its season 3-8 and 2-6 for an eight-place tie in Pac-10 play. The Sun Devils, who will receive a bowl bid, are 8-3 and 5-3, tying for third place. UA beat the Devils for the first time since 2001.