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Arizona State stays on track in Pac-12 title chase

The SportsXchange

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Todd Graham has often brought a Rose Bowl poster to practice in his two years here, so he is not about to pretend next Saturday's Pac-12 South showdown against UCLA won't be special.

"It ain't just another game," Graham said after the No. 21-ranked Sun Devils beat Oregon State 30-17 on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium to maintain a one-game lead in the Pac-12 South with two games remaining.

"Everything we've worked for is in this 60 minutes this week. One more win and we've won a Pac-12 South championship. That's been our goal. I'm anxious to get in and get to work on it."

Arizona State running back Marion Grice rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns and cornerback Robert Nelson scored on a late interception return as the Sun Devils (8-2, 6-1) won their fifth straight.

Arizona State will win the Pac-12 South if it beats No. 13 UCLA (8-2, 5-2) in Pasadena on Saturday. If UCLA wins and resurgent USC wins at Colorado, however, the Sun Devils, UCLA and USC will have 6-2 division records entering rivalry games during the final weekend. All would have a chance at the title.

"We have sixty minutes to achieve our goal," said Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 183 yards with two interceptions. "Our guys believe in each other."

Grice, who entered the game as the FBS scoring leader at 12.0 points per game, scored on two 1-yard runs in the first half as the Sun Devils built a 20-0 lead. He has 21 touchdowns this season, one short of Wilford White's school record set in 1950.

"A lot of guys have a lot of belief. We've all bonded together," Grice said.

Nelson had two of Arizona State's four interceptions against Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, returning the second for a 23-yard touchdown with 5:08 remaining for a 30-10 lead. Nelson has six interceptions, five in his last five games.

"I read the quarterback and drove on the ball. Credit goes to may team and my defense," Nelson said.

Mannion completed 31 of 46 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, the last a 29-yarder to Connor Hamlett with 2:41 remaining. Hamlett had nine receptions for 119 yards. Brandin Crooks had nine catches for 99 yards and set a school season record with 100 receptions.

"I am disappointed in the way I played," Mannion said. "I take a lot of responsibility for this loss. I expect more from myself."

Mannion threw only six interceptions in 436 passing attempts in the first nine games.

"We probably pressured (the quarterback) less tonight than we did the entire year," Graham said. "We felt we had really good matchups, so we just matched up and covered them. The best coverage team I've ever coached is this team. Just great players making great plays."

Oregon State scored on an 18-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, then pulled within 20-10 on Mannion's 6-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Smith with 2:17 left in the third quarter to cap a 96-yard drive.

Arizona State defensive tackle Davon Coleman kept the Beavers (6-4, 4-3) from moving closer when he blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt with 10:17 remaining.

Zane Gonzalez's 18-yard field goal gave Arizona State a 23-10 lead with 5:25 left, and Nelson scored on his interception return on the next play from scrimmage to make it 30-10.

"We started slow," Oregon State linebacker D.J. Alexander said. "We let them get up on us and we tried to react, but it was too late."

NOTES: Arizona State entered Saturday's game as one of five FBS teams ranked in the top 20 in total offense and total defense. No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Baylor and No. 17 Wisconsin were the others. The Sun Devils beat Wisconsin 32-30 here on Sept. 14. ... QB Sean Mannion is on pace to set an Oregon State record for completion percentage in a season held by Sean Canfield, who completed 67.9 percent of his passes in 2009. Manning entered the game at the same number, 67.9 percent. ... Oregon State senior OT Michael Philipp made his 45th career start, the most among active Pac-12 players. Arizona State senior OT Evan Finkenberg and senior CB Osahon Irabor made their 43rd career starts, tied for second most in the conference. Irabor has made his starts consecutively, the longest current streak in the Pac-12.
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