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Pac-12 provides more late-night drama and controversy

As the Arizona State-Wisconsin and Oregon State-Utah games showed, some of the most memorable moments on a college football Saturday happen after midnight.

September 15, 2013|Chris Dufresne

The Pac-12 continued its (Eastern) time-honored tradition of playing host to some of the most compelling football ever played after midnight in Altoona.

Anybody can roll out great games on CBS in broad daylight, but the Pac-12 excels at impasses with major cable distributors and saving its highlight-reel stuff for security guards and vampires.

If you thought Alabama and Texas A&M was good theater, and it was, you should have popped NoDoz and caught the end of Oregon State at Utah and then Wisconsin at Arizona State.

We can honestly tell you ratings and beer bottles went through the roof in Madison.

The last-call bar fight under sweat and stars in Tempe ended with another black eye for Pac-12 officials that will require a forensic review Monday probably followed by a letter of apology.

The Big Ten probably can't get too huffy given the conferences have been Rose Bowl partners and chums dating to 1947.

The Pac-12 tried to eradicate its tainted referee image by turning over its referee department in the 2006 fiasco aftermath of Oklahoma at Oregon.

Larry Scott knew of the league's pinstriped reputation when he became commissioner in 2009 and reorganized the joint from top to bottom.

Saturday night, though, only dredged up unpleasant memories of replay officials named Gordon Riese.

Of course, it was Wisconsin's fault too, for putting the game in the officials' hands when it was not required.

Arizona State ended up "winning" the game, 32-30, when time ran out on Wisconsin deep in Sun Devils territory.

Wisconsin had first down at the 13 with 18 seconds left with the ball sitting on the right hash line when the Badgers decided that just wasn't good enough. With no timeouts, quarterback Joel Stave took the snap and tried to maneuver the ball to the middle of the field to get a better angle for Wisconsin's kicker.

Stave stumbled a bit behind the back of a lineman's leg and appeared to quickly down the ball with his right knee. It was unclear in real time, but Wisconsin would definitely win the court case based on all the Twitter still shots its fans blasted into cyberspace.

Stave's mistake was not giving the ball to an official but setting it on the ground. Arizona State linebacker Anthony Jones, who did not realize Stave had taken a knee, pounced on what he thought was a live ball.

"We just jumped on it," Arizona State safety Alden Darby said. "And I guess time ran out so we won. I was confused back there."

He wasn't alone.

The clock ticked as Stave explained to one official he had downed the ball. The ref nodded in agreement, but, by the time the ball was reset, the game clock had expired.

Worth noting is a new rule this season that prohibits a ball to be spiked with three seconds or less remaining.

Was Wisconsin even aware of this rule?

Anyway, the whole ending was botched and now the Pac-12 has to explain what happened, and why.

This is not comparable, in my opinion, to the 2006 game in which the Pac-12 robbed Oklahoma of a win in Eugene. Even after a replay review, Oregon was allowed to recover an onside kick despite the fact a Ducks player touched it illegally before it traveled 10 yards.

And, one more thing, an Oklahoma player recovered the ball. Oregon used the gaffe to win the game by one before fleeing the crime scene.

Oklahoma President David Boren demanded the game be stricken from the records, but thankfully a cooler head prevailed. That head belonged to then-Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, now Scott's No. 2 man in the Pac-12 office.

"I don't have a lot to say," Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen said after the latest Pac-12 puzzler. "It is a shame that it went down that way."

Yes, it was.

Bottom line: Wisconsin probably was hosed but is also guilty of playing with matches next to a gas can.

Arizona State improved to 2-0, and Wisconsin fell to 2-1. Arizona State opens Pac-12 play this week at Stanford, and Wisconsin plays host to Purdue in its Big Ten opener.

Andersen said it is important for Wisconsin not to dwell on a heartbreaking defeat.

"The lesson is don't let ASU beat you twice," he said.

The outcome overshadowed an almost simultaneous thriller in Salt Lake City in which Oregon State needed overtime to defeat Utah, 51-48.

Both sidelines were deeply, and emotionally, charged. Oregon State players were stunned by a second-half head injury to star running back Storm Woods, who was taken off the field by ambulance.

"That, understandably so, takes the wind out of you," Oregon State Coach Mike Riley said.

Woods was able to give a "thumbs up" sign as he was carted away and tweeted out Sunday he was OK.

On the Utah sideline, quarterback Travis Wilson played the game of his life in honor of San Clemente High friend and teammate Nick Pasquale, the freshman UCLA receiver who died last weekend.

Wilson forced overtime with a nine-yard touchdown run in which he raced around right end and clipped the goal-line pylon with the ball while skidding out of bounds.

Wilson passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 142 yards with three scores.

But is life ever fair?

Utah scored a field goal on its possession in overtime but lost when Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion's tipped pass off a Utah defender floated into the hands of Beavers receiver Brandin Cooks in the end zone.

After the game, Wilson, the losing quarterback, exchanged an embrace with Oregon State freshman lineman Sean Harlow.

It could have been any Oregon State player offering his well wishes after a hard-fought game, but it wasn't.

Harlow was also a teammate of Pasquale's at San Clemente.

What an emotional week. What an emotional night.

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