It was another in a season full of comebacks for No. 4 Arizona State, but this one may go a long way in deciding the Rose Bowl race.
Terry Battle’s fourth touchdown of the game--a 25-yard run in the second overtime--and freshman Courtney Jackson’s 85-yard fumble return gave the Sun Devils a 48-35 victory over USC on Saturday.
“I thought we had encountered everything we could this season. This one was totally different,” said Arizona State Coach Bruce Snyder, whose team shut out Nebraska, 19-0, here Sept. 21 and came from 21 points behind in the fourth quarter to beat UCLA, 42-34, last week.
“We took USC’s best punch and didn’t go down. This is a really special team,” Snyder said. “I don’t know how good we really are. That won’t be determined maybe until December.”
Arizona State (7-0, 4-0 in Pac-10) forced overtime at 28-28 on Battle’s seven-yard touchdown run with 1:30 remaining.
USC (4-3, 2-2) scored first in overtime on Brad Otton’s 10-yard pass to Rodney Sermons. The Sun Devils matched it when Jake Plummer hit Keith Poole from six yards out.
Battle, who had a career-high 184 yards in 30 carries, gave Arizona State its first lead with a 25-yard run on the Sun Devils’ initial play of the second overtime.
On third-and-6 from the Arizona State 21, Otton was ruled to have fumbled and Jackson scooped up the ball and raced untouched along the sidelines for the final points.
“I flipped it, like a shovel pass,” said Otton, who completed 16 of 39 passes for 205 yards. “I was just trying to get rid of the ball. I’ve done that play a million times, and completed that pass a lot. But I thought the ball was dead.”
“I looked at the ref and he gave me a look he was saying, ‘I didn’t blow the whistle,’ so I ran,” said Jackson, who has played sparingly this season. “I didn’t know if it was a pass or what. I just picked up the ball and ran.”
Many in the overflow crowd of 74,947--the largest to watch an Arizona State game at Sun Devil Stadium--swarmed the field after Jackson’s first career touchdown.
“Brad Otton insisted he was trying to pass on the last play, to throw an underhanded pass, but the referee saw it differently,” USC Coach John Robinson said. “It was a great football game. We gave it everything we had and we came up short.”
The victory kept the Sun Devils in the Rose Bowl hunt and kept Plummer in the race for postseason honors. The senior completed 26 of 44 passes--both career bests--for 277 yards.
“He’s one of the most competitive quarterbacks I’ve ever seen,” Robinson said. “His style is similar to Joe Montana with his ability to make plays.”
However, Plummer had three passes intercepted, as many as he had entering the game in 176 pass attempts.
The Trojans picked off two of Plummer’s first four passes en route to a 14-0 lead.
Linebacker Chris Claiborne returned a tipped pass 17 yards to the Arizona State 37 to set up Otton’s 15-yard touchdown toss to John Allred for a 7-0 lead 3:33 into the game.
On the Sun Devils’ next possession, defensive end George Perry intercepted Plummer’s screen pass and returned it 18 yards to the Arizona State 13. That set up LaVale Woods’ 13-yard touchdown run with 10:24 remaining in the first quarter.
Battle, starting after Michael Martin injured his neck against UCLA last week, had touchdown runs of 32 and 18 yards to forge a 14-14 halftime tie.
He wore Martin’s No. 29 on his taped wrists and became the first Sun Devil to score four rushing touchdowns since Channing Williams against Wichita State in 1986--the year Arizona State won its first and only Pac-10 title.
“I knew I had to step up today,” said Battle, who entered the game with 281 yards and five touchdowns in 48 carries. “I felt I had to be the man to get the rushing attack going.”
Otton put USC ahead, 21-14, on a disputed 29-yard pass to Chris Miller, who dropped the ball in the back of the end zone on a diving attempt 54 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Arizona State tied it on Plummer’s 21-yard scoring pass to Steve Bush, capping a 98-yard drive with 7:11 remaining.
Freshman R. Jay Soward returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score that gave USC a 28-21 lead before Battle’s tying touchdown culminated a 78-yard drive and forced overtime.