Sun Devil Summer School: The Best Seasons - 1970Posted: Updated:
Over the first 56 seasons of Normal/Owl/Bulldog/Sun Devil football—ranging from 1897 to 1969—the program had several seasons of great success.
Yet, by as the 1960s came to an end, the cumulative bowl record stood at a fruitless 0-3-1
In their first postseason venture, the Bulldogs battled Catholic University to a scoreless tie in the 1940 Sun Bowl. Despite a 94-yard touchdown run by Hascall Henshaw in the 1941 Sun Bowl, ASU fell 26-13 to Case Western Reserve. Nine more years passed before Arizona State made another bowl game, but their fate was the same. In a pair of Salad Bowls in 1950 and 1951, ASU lost 33-21 to Xavier and 34-21 to Miami of Ohio respectively.
That winless record would remain for a long, long time, as, despite some successful seasons under Dan Devine and Frank Kush, the Sun Devils wouldn't get back to a bowl game until 1970. It turned out to be worth the wait.
Coming off an 8-2 record in 1969, the Sun Devils were primed for a memorable run as the new decade began.
ASU started hot, winning their first three games in dominant fashion, outscoring their opponents by a combined 125-25.
The proficiency of the Sun Devil offense, which averaged over 508 yards and nearly 37 points-per-game, was terrific. Running back Bob Thomas led a forceful rushing attack, topping 1,000 yards, while J.D. Hill made history, becoming the first player in program history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, while leading the team with 15 touchdowns.
But it was the defense that led the way for ASU's success. The Sun Devils surrendered just 238 yards and 13.8 points-per-game, staggeringly efficient figures.
By the time they reached the regular season finale against UofA, they stood at 9-0, with seven of those wins by at least 20 points. Yet, as so often happens, the battle between ASU and Arizona was a hotly contested affair. ASU managed to hold on to a 10-6 win, giving them a perfect 10-0 regular season record.
As a result of that perfect mark and WAC title, they earned a trip to the Peach Bowl to face off against North Carolina, in what turned out to be one of most important games in school history...and one entertaining game to boot.
Thomas got the Devils off to a strong start, rushing for a pair of touchdowns to give ASU a 14-0 second quarter lead.
However, UNC's All-American running back Don McCauley had a monster second quarter of his own. He scored three rushing touchdowns in the quarter, and a 67-yard touchdown reception by Hill for the Sun Devils in the frame was negated by a late Tar Heel scoring pass as UNC rode their stunning blitzkrieg to a 26-21 half time lead.
As the game progressed, a ragging blizzard struck Atlanta, turning the fast track into a wintery battlefield. Despite the icy conditions, the Sun Devils shone through in the second half.
With the conditions obviously hindering the passing game, ASU found success on the ground. Monroe Eley, ASU's talented backup running back, ran for two touchdowns in the third quarter, with the dynamic Steve Holden adding another. Meanwhile, the defense was able to hold McCauley in check and keep UNC off the board to head to the fourth quarter with a 41-26 lead. ASU was just 15 minutes away from their first bowl win ever. Could they hold on?
Thomas scored his third rushing touchdown of the game, and the defense maintained their second half shutout as the Sun Devils completed their magical undefeated season 11-0.
The victory helped ASU end the season ranked No. 8 in the Coaches Poll and No. 6 in the AP. The 1970 season would begin the "Golden Era" of ASU football that ran through 1975, in which the team went 62-9 and earned a spot in the hearts of Sun Devils for all time. That run began with the Peach Bowl win and placed ASU on the national stage, a fact not lost on Coach Kush at the time.
"This game is going to mean a lot to us in the future. I think that we've proven now that we can go on a football field with anyone in the nation."