Arizona went into the season with high expectations. A ferocious defense led by Tedy Bruschi, Chuck Osborne and Brandon Sanders, combined with a potent offense, was good enough to earn the Wildcats a preseason number 19 ranking.
In the first game of the year, the Wildcats blasted Pacific then snuck by Georgia Tech the following week before losing their third game of the year season against Illinois. The Wildcats were then hammered the next week by the Keyshawn Johnson-led USC Trojans.
Compounding the Cats struggles, star wide receiver Richard Dice went down with a torn ACL early in the year and was thought to be out for the season.
Conversely, ASU went into the season with few expectations, and, for the first half of the season, those expectations seemed correct.
Led by dynamic quarterback Jake Plummer and do-everything safety Pat Tillman, ASU caught fire during the second half of the season and went into the Arizona game riding a four game-winning streak, including two wins over top 25 ranked teams.
Despite playing in Tempe, Arizona received a huge emotional lift before the game when Richard Dice, who put off surgery in an attempt to come back for the last game, came out in warm-ups suited and ready to play.
Arizona fell behind early, but went into the half down three thanks to a Richard Dice touchdown catch.
Dice came out in the second half, clearly hobbled, and after hauling in a contested pass at the ASU six, limped to the bench where he watched his teammates make big play after big play.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, nor did either team look particularly crisp on either side of the ball.
Arizona’s defense, which hadn’t live up to its dominating reputation for much of the season, came up big when it counted, however.
Down seven, All Pac-10 defensive tackle Chuck Osborne jarred the ball out of Plummer’s hands deep in ASU territory, which fellow tackle Joe Salave’a picked up and ran into the endzone.
After another Arizona stop, Dan White drove the Cats up the field to set up a John Prasuhn game-winning field goal. The 31-28 victory ensured White would finish his career with a 3-0 record against the Sun Devils.
The win allowed Arizona to salvage a lost season and send the best player in school history (Bruschi) off with a win against the school’s arch enemy. ASU, meanwhile, lost out on an opportunity to play in a bowl game for the first time since 1987.