Arizona State offensive lineman Steven Miller rams the pitchfork into the Arizona Wildcats’ end zone after the Sun Devils scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win.

Chants of “ASU! ASU!” thundered through Arizona Stadium moments after an improbable comeback that had to be seen to be believed.

About 10 minutes later, Arizona Wildcats players tried to process what had just happened. They mostly were at a loss for words — stunned into silence.

Sophomore linebacker Colin Schooler found a way to describe it. In nine words, he summed up a disappointing game and a frustrating season.

“We need to play four quarters every single week,” Schooler said.

The Wildcats didn’t do that Saturday afternoon against Arizona State, and it cost them. They played an incomplete game to finish a season in which they never quite jelled.

ASU rallied from a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit to shock Arizona 41-40 in front of 51,805 fans who rode the emotional roller coaster alongside the participants.

A win would have made the Wildcats bowl-eligible, and it would have brought the Territorial Cup back to Tucson. Instead, Arizona ended Kevin Sumlin’s first season at 5-7 overall — and 4-5 in the Pac-12.

“Every loss hurts,” senior receiver Shawn Poindexter said, “but yeah, this kind of sucks.”

It wasn’t just that the Wildcats lost; it was how they lost.

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Arizona place-kicker Josh Pollack watches his potential game-winning field goal miss wide right at Arizona Stadium.

Arizona appeared to have the game under control, holding a 40-21 lead entering the fourth quarter. Star receiver N’Keal Harry hadn’t done much against a depleted secondary. Eno Benjamin, the Pac-12’s leading rusher, mostly had been held in check. The UA offense had missed some scoring opportunities, but it had moved the ball and taken care of it.

Then it all fell apart.

The Wildcats became too conservative on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Khalil Tate, who threw three touchdown passes in the first three quarters, was involved in two killer turnovers in the fourth — an interception and a fumbled exchange with tailback J.J. Taylor.

The Sun Devils took the lead — their first and only lead — on Benjamin’s 22-yard touchdown run with 3:08 remaining. Arizona advanced to the ASU 27-yard line with 17 seconds left. Fifth-year senior Josh Pollack, who had made a career-high four field goals in four tries previously, missed a 45-yarder wide right.

The Sun Devils celebrated. The Wildcats were devastated.

“There were many plays in the game, more than just the field goal at the end,” Sumlin said. “There were a lot of things in this football game that dictated the outcome.”

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The Wildcat defense held Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin to 80 net rushing yards on 21 carries. But he scored three touchdowns, including the final TD of the game, to earn MVP honors.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the first half. Arizona controlled the action and outgained ASU 308 yards to 163.

But the Wildcats settled for field goals three times inside the red zone. They held the lead, but it was a mere eight points.

“In the moment,” Sumlin said, “you’re looking at, what we can do to fix what’s going on? (Why) are we stalling out in the red zone? Is it scheme? Is it personnel? What is it?

“But you can’t dwell on that at that point. You’ve gotta move on.”

Arizona also failed to recover a pair of first-half fumbles in ASU territory. On the second one, it appeared that the defense thought quarterback Manny Wilkins had thrown an incomplete pass; no one went for the ball. In reality, a hit by Jalen Harris had propelled it forward.

“That’s poor situational awareness by me,” Schooler said. “I should not assume what’s going to happen and what the officials are thinking.”

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UA wide receiver Shun Brown flexes after a long kick return during the second quarter. The Wildcats led 22-14 at halftime, but had to settle for field goals three times inside the red zone in the first two quarters.

Still, as the third quarter began, the Wildcats built their lead. PJ Johnson tackled Benjamin in the end zone for a safety. Pollack made another field goal. Gary Brightwell raced around right end for a 35-yard touchdown. Tate hit Tony Ellison for an 8-yard score.

After Brightwell’s touchdown, which made it 33-21, Sumlin elected to try for a two-point conversion. He had done so earlier as well, when Tate’s 23-yard TD pass to Shawn Poindexter made it 19-7 in the second quarter.

Both attempts failed, costing Arizona two points in a game it lost by one.

“Basically, we got off the number early based on some statistical data that we use,” Sumlin said. “(We were) trying to get back on the even number.”

Despite it all, Arizona led by 19 entering the fourth quarter. Brandon Ruiz’s 27-yard field goal made it 40-24 with 13:05 left.

On their next possession, the Wildcats rushed the ball six consecutive times. They gained one first down and punted the ball back to the Sun Devils.

Wilkins’ 11-yard touchdown run made it 40-30, and his two-point pass to Tommy Hudson made it a one-score game with 6:36 remaining. The first play of the next possession was a false start. Arizona then ran the ball two more times, setting up third-and-10.

Tate rolled to his right. He appeared to have Poindexter open underneath. But Tate threw the ball farther downfield, toward Ellison. ASU’s Aashari Crosswell intercepted it at the UA 46 and returned it to the 22.

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Arizona receiver Shawn Poindexter hauls in a long pass ahead of Arizona State’s Chase Lucas during the first quarter at Arizona Stadium.

Sumlin was asked afterward if Arizona took its foot off the gas too early.

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “The biggest issue to me was the two turnovers. Two turnovers on your side of the 50.

“From a strategy standpoint, you’re not strategizing to turn it over twice on your side of the field.”

The UA defense held after the interception, forcing a field goal that made it 40-35. Two plays later, on second-and-13, Tate turned to hand off to Taylor. They weren’t completely in sync. The ball fell to the turf. ASU’s Tyler Johnson recovered it at the 22.

Benjamin zipped through the defense on the next play, scoring his third touchdown. He earned game MVP honors despite being held to 80 net rushing yards on 21 carries.

ASU’s comeback was tied for its fourth largest since 1996. It was the third-biggest fourth-quarter rally in the Pac-12 during that span, according to the league and STATS. The top two required overtime.

“If you look at our whole season … we played in nine one-score games,” first-year ASU coach Herm Edwards said. “We are very comfortable there. We’re not in a panic mode. It’s not like we’re winning by a lot of points. But we just keep fighting, and that’s this team’s DNA.”

The Sun Devils (7-5, 5-4) competed in every game they played, never losing by more than seven points.

The Wildcats were wildly inconsistent. When they put it all together, they looked like a championship contender. More often than not, something was missing.