Arizona senior quarterback Matt Scott was one of the last Wildcats off the field, walking slowly, red helmet still on, heading to the locker room amid chants of “ASU! ASU!” from visiting fans clustered in the stands.
This whole Arizona season, full of more good than bad, has been possible because Scott grasped Rich Rodriguez’s offense and mostly obliterated the learning curve in leading an offense that has and will break school records.
But there was no happy ending for Scott and the Wildcats at Arizona Stadium.
Scott’s worst day of the season — by far — came against Arizona State on Friday night, as the Sun Devils turned his four turnovers into 28 points and a fourth-quarter comeback that ripped the Territorial Cup from Arizona’s grasp. ASU won 41-34 to give Todd Graham a leg up on Rodriguez as first-year coaches in the rivalry.
Rodriguez, somewhat testy as he sat through a postgame press conference of less than five minutes, was asked what he would tell Scott after a game like this.
Rodriguez answered as noise from rowdy ASU fans outside the stadium echoed in the interview room.
“He has a lot of class,” Rodriguez said.
“Matt Scott is a stud. I told him in the locker room that I loved him. He’s had a great senior year. I’m proud of the way he’s played every time he’s gone out.”
But neither Scott nor the coaches will love watching the game tape of this one.
Arizona struggled in the passing game from the start, a problem further complicated in the first half when starting receiver Dan Buckner couldn’t go on because of an ankle injury. Scott was intercepted on consecutive plays in the second quarter.
The first interception came when UA was up 6-0 and at the ASU 34. The next set up the Devils at their own 38.
“His decisions were OK for the most part,” Rodriguez said.
“There were a few he would like to have back. We just weren’t sharp. There were some passes we didn’t execute today that we normally would, but you have to give them credit, too. They did a good job covering us and giving us pressure.”
Scott, who was not made available to the media after the game, was just 7 of 18 for 78 yards at halftime as Arizona trailed 14-9.
But strange things always happen in this rivalry, and the third-quarter momentum swung. Scott led touchdown drives of 83 and 68 yards, and a fumble by ASU gave Arizona the ball at the Sun Devils 24, leading 24-17. After reaching the 3, the cats had to settle for a field and then the fun began for Arizona State.
After ASU cut the lead to 27-20, the Cats were driving with a first-and-10 at the Devils 18. Scott kept the ball on the run, jumped over a tackle and then was stacked up while defensive back Keelan Johnson ripped the ball out. The ball bounced and was kicked down field before ASU recovered.
That was the beginning of an ASU avalanche.
With Marion Grice — who would run for 156 yards — scoring his third touchdown, Arizona State tied the game … and then made the special teams play of the night. Stopped on a three-and-out, punter Kyle Dugandzic rolled to his on a rugby punt and had the attempt blocked by Kevin Ayers.
A breakdown in protection?
“Apparently,” Rodriguez said.
Facing fourth-and-6 from the ASU 44, Scott was intercepted for the third time, the ball glancing off the hands of Austin Hill and into the arms of defensive back Robert Nelson. ASU scored again; Arizona kept its heartbeat alive with a touchdown pass to David Richards with 1:54 left, but an on-side kick went out of bounds.
And that was that.
Scott and the Cats wouldn’t get to lead the band in “Bear Down, Arizona” after the game. Instead, Graham got to celebrate with the Territorial Cup, showing it off to ASU fans in the stadium and letting them touch it, and Sparky planted his pitchfork in the Arizona Stadium turf.
Scott was 19 of 39 for 230 yards, an unfitting ending to his season in which he often has led the Pac-12 in total offense.
“Matt Scott is a great quarterback,” running back Daniel Jenkins said.
“I would tell him not to hang his head at all. You win some, you lose some, but at the end of the day, he’s a hell of a quarterback.”
Arizona finished the regular season at 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12. ASU is 7-5 and 5-4. Each will go bowling, but the destinations are still up in the air.
“I’m disappointed that we lost,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not discouraged by our kids.”