Arizona State’s rivalry math could not have been any better on Saturday.
While claiming the Territorial Cup for the third straight year and seventh time in the past nine seasons, the Sun Devils sent 27 seniors out as winners in their final regular-season game.
Most of them arrived in 2003 and embarked on a wild ride at ASU that culminated in the firing of the coach, Dirk Koetter, who recruited them. Under first-year coach Dennis Erickson, they have won 10 games, eclipsing the class high of nine in 2004.
And they are Pac-10 co-champions.
“Any time there is a coaching change, to have that in your senior year is difficult,” Erickson said. “They’ve had a great season, the best season they’ve had in a long time, and they’ve adjusted to everything and done everything we have asked of them. So, I’m really proud of what they’ve done.”
Nine of them are first-teamers. Eight — safety Josh Barrett, cornerback Littrele Jones, receiver Tyrice Thompson and offensive linemen Robert Gustavis, Zach Krula, Julius Orieukwu, Mike Pollak, Brandon Rodd — have already earned their degrees.
“They had to deal with a change in coaches, and they stuck it out and stayed,” junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter said. “They made it really easy on coach Erickson after he got here. With all of the things that they’ve been through, they can end (their career) in a big bowl game.”
Chris McGaha again showed off the most reliable hands on the team, with six receptions for 83 yards. His effort was especially impressive, considering that he worked against Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, for much of the night.
“He makes sick, ridiculous catches,” quarterback Rudy Carpenter said of the sophomore. “I can’t believe he’s got two more years here. He has a chance to go down as one of the best receivers in ASU history by the time he’s done.”
However, the saga continues — McGaha has an ASU-leading 52 catches, but not one for a touchdown.
“I just might have to hold a scrimmage during the bowl week and let him get into the end zone uncovered,” Erickson said with a smile. “Then, we’ll count the touchdown in the statistics.”
The Sun Devils blocked a kick for the second straight week when defensive lineman Michael Marquardt got a hand on Jason Bonzido’s 47-yard field goal try in the third quarter.
“Did I even get in the air?” said Marquardt, a 295-pounder. “It didn’t feel like it.”
Receiver Tyrice Thompson blocked a punt against USC on Thanksgiving, and defensive lineman Luis Vasquez deflected a field goal attempt against California on Oct. 27.
“(Marquardt) was like a big bear claw that took the ball out of the air,” Thompson said. “I’m proud of our unit when we block a kick. That’s our job.”
ASU has won 10 games for the 11th time in school history, the first since the 1996 Rose Bowl season. Per a victory-total clause in his contract, Erickson earned a $200,000 bonus. …
Troy Nolan’s second-quarter interception was his sixth of the year, the most for a Sun Devil since Nathan LaDuke in 1989. ...
Rudy Burgess now has 729 kickoff return yards this season, breaking the school mark set by Chris Hopkins, who had 713 in 1995.