TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Kalen Ballage burst through a hole on the right side and shrugged off a would-be tackler. He raced toward the sideline, sidestepped another tackler and carried a defensive player with him the final 4 yards into the end zone.
Arizona State’s sophomore running back was not going to be denied. Neither were the Sun Devils in their biggest comeback in five years.
Ballage broke three tackles on a 48-yard run in the fourth quarter for his second touchdown and Arizona State rallied from a woeful first half to beat Washington 27-17 on Saturday.
“When you stop believing, you fall short,” said Arizona State cornerback Kweishi Brown, who’s interception in the fourth quarter set up Ballage’s big run. “We knew we were going to win it and got it done.”
Arizona State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) staggered its way through a lethargic first half, looking nothing like a team trying to play its way into a bowl game. But after falling into a 17-0 hole, the Sun Devils got their groove back, dominating the Huskies (4-6, 2-5) on both sides of the ball to move within one win of bowl eligibility.
Arizona State shut down Washington’s offense after losing two key starters in the first half and starting the game without injured safety Kareem Orr. Stagnant in the first half, ASU’s offense clicked in the second to cap the program’s biggest comeback since rallying from 17 down to beat UCLA in 2010.
Ballage had 92 yards on 11 carries and Mike Bercovici threw for 253 yards and a touchdown for the Sun Devils, who need to beat Arizona or California to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season.
“This is what this football team is all about,” Ballage said. “They got up on us, but it’s how you finish not how you start.”
Washington started strong and finished with a fizzle.
Dominating in the first half and still in it after three quarters, the Huskies imploded with four turnovers in the fourth. Jake Browning, who threw for 405 yards and touchdown, had three of those on interceptions after a solid first half.
“We did nothing (in second half)”,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “If everything is not lined up just right, we have a hard time making plays.”
Disappointing seasons to this point left both teams needing to win two of their final three games just to become bowl eligible.
The Huskies landed in this position because of a young offense negating what the stout defense has accomplished. Washington was at its get-in-their-own-way worst last week, turning the ball over five times in a 34-23 loss to No. 10 Utah.
The Huskies had no trouble early against Arizona State’s defense, popping off one big play after another. Washington’s first play went for 21 yards, a 46-yard pass set up a field goal and 53-yard run led to Myles Gaskin’s 1-yard touchdown run.
A trick play of sorts — Petersen’s specialty — set up another score, when backup quarterback K.C. Carta-Samuels went in motion on a fourth-and-1, ducked under center and sneaked his way to a first down. Browning later hit Darrell Daniels on a 29-yard touchdown pass to put the Huskies up 17-0.
It got worse for the Sun Devils early in the second quarter when two starters went down on the same play. Safety Jordan Simone, the national leader in solo tackles per game, had to be helped off after injuring his right knee and may be done for the season, Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. Spur linebacker Laiu Moeakiola also went out with a shoulder injury.
The only problem for the Huskies was that they left too many potential points on the field. Washington had punts from Arizona State’s 36- and 42-yard lines, and failed on a fourth-and-4 on the Sun Devils’ 35.
“We have to finish and capitalize on opportunities that they’re handing to us,” Browning said. “That starts with me.”
Arizona State’s offense labored against Washington’s disruptive offense most of the first half, managing three first downs, 133 total yards and a late field goal.
The Sun Devils dominated once the second half started.
Arizona State opened with a crisp scoring drive, capped by Ballage’s 3-yard TD run. Bercovici followed with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Devin Lucien to open the fourth quarter, tying the game at 17-all.
The defense felt the momentum shift. They started getting more pressure on Browning, not allowing the freshman to set his feet.
Arizona State sacked Browning for a 9-yard loss on a third down and Cameron Van Winkle missed a 45-yard field goal wide left. Another sack ended Washington’s next drive and Arizona State took the lead on Zane Gonzelez’s 23-yard field goal.
Browning then threw an interception and Ballage broke off his big scoring run the next play, capping Arizona State’s comeback.
“It’s a testament to our players,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “That’s impressive.”
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