The Washington Huskies all but ruined Arizona State's bid for a berth in the Rose Bowl, handing the third-ranked Sun Devils their first defeat, 17-13, tonight.
Washington will win the Pacific-10 Conference championship and play Big Ten champion Michigan in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day, providing it beats Washington State next week.
Playing before a record home crowd of 72,021, ASU, which joined the conference in 1978, saw its record dip to 9-1.
Washington (9-1) was helped by four ASU turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns. ASU Coach Darryl Rogers said that was the difference.
"Big games are won by teams that make the fewest mistakes," he said. "The loss is devastating in our minds. It may take awhile for us to recover. The kids are disappointed because they had such a great opportunity. But they are resiliant."
Both teams had depended on defenses all season. ASU was third in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 215 yards a game. Washington was 15th, at 282. The offenses, meanwhile, had been good enough to get by. Neither starting quarterback was playing at this time a year ago. Junior Todd Hons redshirted last season after transferring from junior college. Tim Cowan, the Huskies' starting quarterback, was recovering from a thumb injury and playing behind Steve Pelluer.
Cowan, in fact, had moved ahead of Pelluer only last week, guiding Washington to a 10-7 victory over UCLA. A fifth-year senior, Cowan was inserted as a starter after Pelluer became inconsistent.
Hons committed the first mistake. He overthrew receiver Ron Brown, a world-class sprinter, on ASU's second play following a Huskie punt. Ray Horton intercepted, giving Washington the ball on its 22. But after getting one first down, the Huskies failed to advance.
ASU then moved to the Washington 31 but Luis Zendejas missed a 48-yard field goal attempt.
The Sun Devils' second error of the first quarter led to a Huskie touchdown. Scott Kegans fumbled Jeff Partridge's punt and Washington had the ball on the ASU 32. Two plays later, Aaron Williams leaped to make a one-handed catch of a pass from Cowan for a 20-yard touchdown reception two plays into the second quarter.
Later in the period, Horton returned Mike Black's 60-yard punt 36 yards to the ASU 42. The Huskies moved to the ASU 11 and Chuck Nelson kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 6:59 left in the half.
It was the 28th consecutive field goal for Nelson, who earlier this season broke the NCAA record of 16 straight, and his 23rd of the year, tying a record set by Clemson's Obed Ariri in 1980.
Zendejas gave the Sun Devils their first points on a 29-yard field goal with 1:53 left in the half after ASU had put together its best drive so far, going from its 20 to the Washington 12. At halftime, the Huskies led, 10-3.
ASU quickly fell into a deeper hole. Darryl Clack fumbled the second half kickoff and the Huskies were in fine position, taking over on the Sun Devils' 25. Washington tailback Jacque Robinson ran the ball four straight times, scoring on a four-yard burst, and the Huskies lead, 17-3, with 13:19 left in the third quarter.
But freshman Clack soon atoned for his mistake. With the ball at midfield, he took a handoff from Hons, broke through the left side of the line and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. With 9:49 remaining in the period, Washington led, 17-10.
Just before the end of the quarter, ASU started a drive from its 28, effectively mixing pass and run. But from the Washington 27, Hons' pass was tipped by teammate Don Kern and intercepted by Robert Leaphart at the five-yard line.
On ASU's next possession, Zendejas kicked a 48-yard field goal to cut Washington's lead to 17-13 with 10:15 left in the game.