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Sun Devils get leg up on Wildcats in rivalry

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012

Arizona State went through a stretch of adversity after that, losing four straight games before clinching bowl eligibility by rolling over Washington State in its seniors' final home game.

The only thing left was to beat Arizona, which Graham had said was his top priority from the day he got the job.

The Sun Devils did just that, helping their coach land the first blow against rival coach Rich Rodriguez, his former boss at West Virginia, while securing their first winning season since 2007.

"This was definitely a must," Graham said. "This was the first check on the list of the fans when I talked to them: 'This game, coach, you better win this game.' So I'm proud to bring it back to them."

The Sun Devils did it in dramatic fashion.

After a close first half, the Wildcats appeared to be headed toward a lopsided win by scoring 18 points in the third quarter, leading 27-17 and seemingly with all the momentum on their side.

Arizona State quickly snatched it back, scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter for a 41-34 victory at Arizona Stadium.

When it was over, Graham took the Territorial Cup on a victory lap of sorts in the stadium of his biggest rival, giving Arizona State's fans a chance to reach out and touch it.

Inside the Sun Devils' locker room, Graham presented the cup to former ASU coach Frank Kush, someone he has become close to as he's tried to bridge the program's past to the present.

Graham also received a text message from his predecessor, Dennis Erickson, and was nearly hoarse after climbing the narrow stairs from the visitor's locker room to the field where he addressed the media.

"I'm proud of him," Arizona State freshman running back D.J. Foster said. "I know this is something he really wanted."

The Sun Devils still have some work to do with a yet-to-be-determined bowl next month.

Whatever happens, this first season under Graham has been an unqualified success, if only for that one game — the one the coach wanted the most.