ASU rides Richard's historic night to overpower Colorado 41-30

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Manny Wilkins and N'Keal Harry celebrate a touchdown (AP Photo/Matt York) Manny Wilkins and N'Keal Harry celebrate a touchdown (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona State had been knocked down and beaten up, but they had battled back to take a slim lead. With under three minutes left on the clock, they were deep in their own territory. To close out a critical victory, ASU needed to grind out the clock. They needed some hard yards.

They needed Demario Richard.

He was ready.

After five yards on the first carry of the drive, Richard burst through the line for a 63-yard gain that would set up the eventual game-clinching touchdown.

"It's my time. I have to seal the deal,” Richard said of his thoughts on the run.

Bad ankle and all, Richard’s career-high 189 rushing yards powered ASU to a 41-30 victory over Colorado. Trailing by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils rallied for the win that improved them to 5-4 on the season and 4-2 in Pac-12 play.

“We knew adversity was going to strike,” said ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins,”We just have to stay poised in all those situations, and I think that’s what this team did a really good job of.”

The Sun Devils stumbled out of the gate, gaining just 66 yards in the first quarter, and they fell behind 10-0 early in the second quarter. It easily could have been a 21-0 hole, but Colorado receivers dropped several passes that likely would have resulted in touchdowns.

“We dropped balls senior receivers should have caught, and they will catch next week,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “We make those plays and it’s a different game but we didn’t. It gave them a ton of momentum to have a fight.”

“We missed throws, dropped balls and missed assignments,” said Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez. “All mistakes we made in the first half caught up to us.”

While ASU’s defense survived on luck early on, the offense was mostly bottled up until a Wilkins 21-yard scramble helped to key the Sun Devils’ scoring drive midway through the second quarter. Three plays after his big run, Wilkins connected with N’Keal Harry for a 20-yard touchdown.

“When they hit us and they got up on us, they can be all high,” said Wilkins, who threw for 202 yards on the night. “We just have to continue and maintain being level, and I think that’s what this team did really good job of doing, staying grounded and level in all these situations that occurred tonight.”

Colorado would answer back, as Phillip Lindsay ran for his second touchdown of the half with just over one minute left in the second quarter. ASU would get a chance to respond with just 1:01 left in the half.

Wilkins went to work, finding Kyle Williams and John Humphrey for a pair of 16-yard gains, while adding 14 more on the ground. On a third down with just over 10 seconds left, he fired a pass into the back corner of the endzone that Williams hauled in for the score.

Game on.

“The good teams are going to bounce back from adversity when its strikes,” said Wilkins, who ran for a career-best 95 yards.

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter before Colorado dealt a big blow. Buffalo wide receiver Shay Fields got ASU cornerback Kobe Williams to bite on a hitch-and-go, and Montez found the wide open fields for a 54-yard touchdown.

Yet instead of a knockout punch, ASU was able to pick themselves off the mat.

“We just hung in there,” said ASU linebacker Alani Latu. “Like when Kobe gave up that long pass, we just came back to the sideline, and we just let the offense do what they needed to do, and then we went back out there and did what we did as a defense.”

Latu got a sack near the end of the quarter that forced a Colorado punt. On the ensuing drive, ASU managed to close the gap to 27-20 thanks to Brandon Ruiz’s 37-yard field goal. Slowly but surely, they kept battling.

“Our mindset is always to take what the defense gives us,” Wilkins said. You keep picking away. Eventually, they give you the game.”

Latu and the ASU defense came up big on the next drive. He added another sack, while Jay Jay Wilson notched his first career sack to force a Colorado punt. That kick was blocked by Khaylan Thomas, setting ASU up at the Buffaloes’ 40-yard line.

They responded with a physical drive that featured runs on six of the seven plays. It not only ended with a Richard touchdown to tie the game at 27-27, it set the tone for the offense for the remainder of the game

“In the fourth quarter, I already know what time it is when the game is close,” said Richard. “My teammates depend on me in the fourth quarter.”

"We got it done the old fashioned way,” said ASU head coach Todd Graham.

However, the defense was not at that level, at least initially.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Montez connected with a wide open Lindsay for a 60-yard gain. They bent, but ASU’s defense did not break, as they forced a field goal that gave Colorado a three-point lead.

Once again needing to come back, the Sun Devils continued hammering away with Richard and the run game.

Richard for two yards. Then seven. Then 40. Jab, jab, uppercut.

“We just worked the cut. That’s our model, to work the cut,” Richard said. “We take everything like it’s boxing. You see a guy keep getting jabbed in the left side of his eye until eventually he gets a cut, so you know, just keep working the cut, and they’re going to get tired.”

On the fifth play of the drive, ASU turned to the the future of the running game. True freshman Eno Benjamin broke five tackles on his way to a 19-yard touchdown. ASU took their first lead of the game.

“I think he is a hell of a running back,” Wilkins said. “I think for him this is huge because it’s a big confidence booster for him. Just to have that feeling of getting into the end zone at Sun Devil Stadium and everybody cheering for you, it’s a great feeling. I was very proud of him to have that moment.”

For Richard, it was rewarding to see a younger player he had been mentoring rise up in a critical situation.

“I told him he has been in my tool box,” said Richard. “He has big shoes to fill once we leave. Like I said he has been in my tool box, he watches me practice every day. I watch him, I correct him, just like I correct myself.”

The Sun Devils forced a punt on Colorado’s next possession, which brings us back to where we started. Just 2:57 left on the clock, and Richard coming on to close out the win.

“He’s really emerged as the leader of our team,” Graham said of Richard. “It’s the absolute relentless way he runs the football.”

Wilkins would seal the win with a one-yard touchdown run just a few plays after Richard’s 63-yard gallop, but Richard said that wouldn't have been necessary if he felt better.

“I've been playing with a busted ankle all week," Richard said. "If my ankle wasn't busted, it was 80 yards to the house."

A week after getting blown out at home against USC, the Sun Devils had responded with an impressive effort that gets their season back on track.

“Our guys, they came out and they were very focused,” Graham said. “We were not happy with how we performed last week.”

In the game, ASU wore special military-themed uniforms inspired by Pat Tillman as part of their Salute to Service night. The look was branded “Brotherhood”, and the Sun Devils comeback effort embodied that sentiment.

“To go into the locker room and listen to our players stand up and tell each other they love each other, and they love the school, and love the brotherhood,” Graham said. “Tonight was all about the brotherhood. It was a pretty special night.”

The win marked the 600th in program history, but now the Sun Devils turn their eyes toward No. 601.

ASU will travel to Pasadena, Calif. next week for a showdown with a reeling UCLA Bruins team. A win would make the Sun Devils bowl eligible and help to solidify the future of the program, as well as Graham’s job status. There is a lot at stake.

Even after a historic night, Richard knows his team’s work is far from finished.

“Champions are made in November.”

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