The Star presents five storylines of interest as the Arizona Wildcats host Arizona State for the Territorial Cup on Friday at Arizona Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. The game will air on Fox Sports 1.
Departing Wildcats have played vital role in Arizona’s transition under Jedd Fisch
Arizona linebacker Jacob Manu was asked what he was looking forward to the most in his first Territorial Cup.
"Really just playing for my seniors," the freshman said.
That’s a widespread sentiment in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility. Arizona’s departing seniors, who have endured turbulent times in Tucson, deserve a going-away present.
No member of the current UA team has defeated Arizona State in a Territorial Cup matchup. Many have experienced multiple defeats.
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Jedd Fisch and his staff are deeply appreciative of the ones who stuck it out and helped the coaches chart a new direction for UA football.
"They've really done a fantastic job of keeping this program afloat," offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll said. "When we got here, it felt like it could go either way.
"The seniors, and really all the guys that are here, have done a fantastic job of trusting the process which we've laid out for them. They've really done everything we've asked them to do in terms of being accountable, being reliable. We can’t thank those guys enough.
"I know it means a bunch to them to have a really good performance, and they deserve to get that shot this weekend."
Fisch said about 20 players could participate in the Senior Day ceremony before Friday’s kickoff. Most are what he called "academic seniors" – players who’ve been in college for four or five years but still have eligibility.
The clock definitively will run out for six starters. One has been here since the Rich Rodriguez days. One got here this year. The others fall somewhere in between.
Here’s a quick look at those six:
OG Josh Donovan
Donovan came to Arizona in 2019 after spending two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. Donovan has appeared in 27 games and started 17 for the Wildcats, including seven each of the past two seasons. He recently relinquished his starting role to freshman Wendell Moe but has remained an integral member of the offensive line.
DE Hunter Echols
Echols enrolled at Arizona in January after transferring from USC, where he spent the previous five seasons. Echols reunited with his former position coach, Johnny Nansen, and has thrived in Nansen’s defense. Echols has notched career highs in tackles (48), stops for losses (eight), sacks (4.5), passes defensed (three), forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (two).
OT Paiton Fears
Like Donovan, Fears joined the Wildcats from the JC ranks in 2019. After spending one season at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, Fears became an immediate contributor and durable workhorse. Friday will mark his 30th consecutive start at right tackle. He has made 35 starts as a Wildcat, third most among current UA players.
DE Jalen Harris
Harris began his UA career in 2017, playing in the first four games before redshirting. The son of two former Wildcats, Harris steadily gained weight and expanded his game amid constant coaching upheaval. In 55 games, including 40 starts, he has 165 tackles, 24 stops for losses, 13 sacks, 11 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
LB Jerry Roberts
Roberts transferred to Arizona from Bowling Green in 2021. He became the starting middle linebacker halfway through the season before suffering a broken leg vs. Washington State that kept him out of the Territorial Cup. Roberts has started every game this season. He ranks third on the team with 67 tackles, including one TFL.
S Christian Young
Young joined the team in 2018 and played multiple positions, including two starts at cornerback, as a true freshman. Young has been a stalwart the past two seasons, starting every game and playing almost every snap. In 47 career appearances, including 31 starts, Young has 175 tackles, 11 passes defensed, nine TFLs, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
ASU hopeful that ‘X’ can become latest RB to win MVP of Territorial Cup
Tailback Xazavian Valladay transferred to Arizona State last offseason, so this will be his first Territorial Cup. It won’t be the first time Valladay – aka "X" – has played at Arizona Stadium.
Valladay played a starring role in Wyoming’s 38-17 victory over Georgia State in the 2019 Arizona Bowl. He rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game’s Offensive MVP.
Valladay played four seasons for the Cowboys, rushing for 3,274 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had one more year of eligibility because of the pandemic and decided to spend it in Tempe, where he’s been the Sun Devils’ Offensive MVP.
Valladay ranks second in the Pac-12 with 1,095 rushing yards. He’s tied for first with 14 touchdowns.
"Their running back’s pretty good," Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said. "I told the staff (that) he’s probably one of the better ones we’ve seen. He runs hard. They use him in the passing game a lot.
"That's our No. 1 priority, stop the run, and obviously taking care of him when he's out there running routes – make sure we have the matchup that we need."
Valladay ranks second on the Sun Devils with 34 receptions. That’s the second most among running backs in the Pac-12. Valladay has gained 272 yards and scored two touchdowns through the air.
In four of the past five Territorial Cups, an ASU tailback has won the Bob Moran Award as the game’s MVP. This year’s team will give Valladay every opportunity to make it five of six. The Wildcats know what they’re up against.
"I'm sure he’s a great player," UA defensive tackle Kyon Barrs said. "But I'm positive that my defense can go out there and stop him."
Revisiting Shawn Poindexter’s block in the 'back' that prevented UA comeback
Friday marks the five-year anniversary of one of the wildest, weirdest Territorial Cup matchups.
Arizona squandered a 24-14 halftime lead, falling 42-30 to Arizona State in Tempe. The Wildcats haven’t beaten the Sun Devils since.
One thing after another went wrong for Arizona, including an injury to star quarterback Khalil Tate and a pair of mishandled punts.
Despite those calamities, the Wildcats had a chance to rally and reclaim the lead. Shun Brown fielded a punt at the 26-yard line. He ran all the way across the field, from right to left, retreating to the 16. He received two massive blocks, the first from Malcolm Holland, the second from Shawn Poindexter. Brown then darted up the sideline for a 73-yard touchdown.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The officials flagged Poindexter for a block in the back. Replays showed he struck Dasmond Tautalatasi from the side.
No matter. No touchdown.
"It wasn’t a block in the back, man," Poindexter said by phone Thursday morning. "It was a very tough situation."
Poindexter had told Brown at halftime that if he caught a punt, "Bring it back to the field and I got you."
"Shun Brown did his thing," Poindexter said. "I had a good cleanup block. It’s tough when you play at ASU. They just won’t let that happen."
Poindexter, who tied the UA record with 11 TD receptions in 2018, experienced the full range of Territorial Cup outcomes during his three seasons at Arizona. He was part of a rousing win in 2016, a blown lead in ’17 and an even more heartbreaking come-from-ahead loss in ’18.
"It’s always a big deal," said Poindexter, who’s from Peoria and attended Centennial High School. "You got friends and family in the state that root for U of A or ASU.
"No other game that we have during the year is like that."
Poindexter, 26, got married this past summer. He and his wife are expecting their first child in spring. They live near Santa Barbara, California, where Poindexter is studying for his real-estate license. He’s also interested in coaching.
Poindexter is still pursuing a pro football career. He played for the New Orleans Breakers of the USFL last spring. He’s in the process of bulking up to transition from receiver to tight end. He knows a good block when he sees one.
"I believe I got him from the side," Poindexter said. "I stick to my guns."
Cats, Devils will break tie
The results of Friday’s Territorial Cup game will break up a tie in the series.
Arizona and ASU are tied 5-5 in years that end with the number 2.
Here’s a look at those results (location) going back to 1902, a decade before Arizona was officially a state:
Year/Final score/Location, stadium
1902: Arizona 12, ASU 0 Tucson, Old Library
1932: Arizona 20, ASU 6 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
1942: Arizona 23, ASU 0 Tempe, Goodwin Stadium
1952: ASU 20, Arizona 18 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
1962: Arizona 20, ASU 17 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
1972: ASU 38, Arizona 21 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
1982: Arizona 28, ASU 18 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
1992: ASU 7, Arizona 6 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
2002: ASU 34, Arizona 20 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
2012: ASU 41, Arizona 34 Tucson, Arizona Stadium
Games make memories for UA, ASU fans
The last time fans could attend a Territorial Cup game at Arizona Stadium was in 2018, when the Wildcats frittered away a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter, lost to the ASU — and fell one game short of qualifying for a bowl game.
That’s just one of many heartbreaks the UA faithful have endured in this rivalry.
Of course, there have also been celebratory moments, too.
Here’s a look at the five most memorable Territorial Cup games played in Tucson over the years:
2010: ASU 30, UA 29
What happened: The Wildcats started 7-1 and earned a top-10 ranking only to fade at the end of the season. Arizona held an eight-point lead over ASU in the fourth quarter before the Sun Devils rallied to tie the game and send it into overtime. Both teams exchanged field goals in the first overtime period, then traded touchdowns in double-overtime, but ASU’s James Brooks blocked Alex Zendejas’ low PAT attempt — his second of the game — to win.
He said it: "The football gods got on our side. I guess the extra-point gods got on our side." — ASU coach Dennis Erickson
2016: UA 56, ASU 35
What happened: The Wildcats entered the contest winless in Pac-12 play and a 2-9 overall. Arizona was so depleted that the Wildcats converted wide receiver Samajie Grant to running back. Smart move: Grant, dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins and running back Zach Green helped Arizona rush for a program record 511 yards in a dominant win over ASU. Arizona didn’t attempt a pass in the second half.
He said it: "The holes were there all day long and we took advantage of it.” — Dawkins
1986: UA 34, ASU 17
What happened: With a chance to cut into Arizona’s two-touchdown lead, ASU quarterback Todd Van Raaphorst threw an interception in Arizona’s end zone to UA star safety Chuck Cecil who returned it 106 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 31-10 lead over ASU. Cecil’s pick-six is arguably the top play in program history.
He said it: “I think the beautiful thing about it is that it was played in front of the whole country, God and everybody. Today was the greatest game of the season. It makes up for a lot of things that happened.” — UA coach Larry Smith
2020: ASU 70, UA 7
What happened: This one was a nightmare from the start for the Wildcats. In the middle of a truncated, pandemic-influenced 2020 season that had a conference-only schedule, the Wildcats found themselves down 14-0 in the first 56 seconds of the game. It was 42-0 before Arizona scored its first touchdown of the game. Leading 63-7 in the fourth quarter, Tucson native and ASU quarterback Trenton Bourguet handed off the ball to running back Jackson He, who became the first Chinese-born player to score a touchdown in college football history. The next day, Arizona fired coach Kevin Sumlin after posting a 9-20 record in three seasons at the helm.
He said it: “There comes a time as players, coaches, everybody, we’ve just got to look ourselves in the mirror and ask who you are and what you want to do and what can you personally do to change it?” — Arizona tight end Bryce Wolma
2014: UA 42, ASU 35
What happened: With a chance to win the Pac-12 South, coach Rich Rodriguez encouraged his players "keep the main thing the main thing" when facing ASU. UCLA lost to Stanford 31-10, meaning the winner of the Territorial Cup would advance to the conference championship game. Freshman running back Nick Wilson ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to a win over ASU — and the Pac-12 South title.
He said it: "This is what you live for.” — Arizona safety Jourdan Grandon
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @michaeljlev