Zane Gonzalez

No. 15 Arizona State overcomes furious Duke rally for Sun Bowl victory

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It was not pretty, but No. 15 Arizona State (10-3) found a way out of El Paso with a victory in the Hyundai Sun Bowl Saturday afternoon. To do so, the Sun Devils needed to respond to a nearly storybook ending by Duke (9-4), with the Blue Devils taking its first lead late in the fourth quarter, only to see Arizona State steal it right back and intercept a last-ditch effort in the end zone to seal the 36-31 victory for Arizona State.

Arizona State started to let the game slip out of their hands late in the first half, but the Sun Devils came out strong in the second half. Taylor Kelly completed a touchdown pass to Demario Richard inside the red zone early in the third quarter to regain a double-digit lead and Zane Gonzalez later padded that lead with a 47-yard field goal, his third field goal of the afternoon. Going to the fourth quarter, Arizona State led 30-17, but just as they did at the end of the first half, the Sun Devils were unable to close.

Duke scored twice in the fourth quarter to gain its first lead of the game with just over five minutes to play. Anthony Boone completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Johnell Barnes early in the fourth quarter. Duke pulled a trick put of the bag later in the fourth quarter when receiver Jamison Crowder tossed a touchdown pass to Isaac Blakeney to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 31-30 following the point-after. The thrill of owning the lead was short-lived, because getting the first bowl victory since the 1960 season certainly not could come so easy for Duke.

Kalen Ballage returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to the Duke four-yard line, and it took Arizona State just one play to move across the goal line. Kelly flipped a pass to Richard for the four-yard score, and the lead. Arizona State was stuffed on a two-point conversion, which gave Duke a chance to take one more lead.

Boone hit a deep pass down the middle fo the field to Crowder, who earlier in the game returned a punt for a touchdown, as the Blue Devils pushed inside the red zone with time dwindling. With 45 seconds to play, Boone threw a fade pass to Crowder on the right side of the field, but it was picked off by Kweishi Brown of Arizona State.

For Duke, it was another tough pill to swallow in a season that has seen a handful of them. But this should not take away from the tremendous amount of growth the program has seen in the past few seasons under head coach David Cutcliffe. It has to sting coming so close to a bowl victory not once, but twice in the final five minutes.

Arizona State missed out on a chance to play for a Pac-12 championship this season, but the season ends on a high note for Todd Graham‘s program. Arizona State should be expected to be another strong contender in the Pac-12 in 2014 as well after back-to-back 10-win seasons.