EL PASO, Texas - Arizona State's duo of understudies — a second-string quarterback and a fourth-string tailback — came up huge on a big-game stage.
And combined with a first-class performance from an inspired defense, the Sun Devils capped their best season in seven years with some thrilling late-game theatrics.
Substituting for the injured Andrew Walter, quarterback and game MVP Sam Keller in his first start threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns, the final one to reserve tailback Rudy Burgess with 43.9 seconds left to play.
Meanwhile, the ASU defense swarmed quarterback Kyle Orton in his final game at Purdue and surprised the Boilermakers with a 27-23 win in the Sun Bowl on Friday before a record crowd of 51,288.
“This is just about a picture-perfect ending for my career here,'' said ASU center Drew Hodgdon. “Sam had the same kind of mentality to the huddle that Andrew's had over the years. He's a positive, confident guy and he knew that he could get us down the field for that last score.''
Burgess, pressed into service at a tailback position riddled with injuries and suspensions, rushed for 125 yards and caught three passes for 64 more as the Devils (9-3) completed their first nine-win season since 1997.
That year, they capped the season with a 17-7 win over Iowa in their last Sun Bowl appearance — with another backup quarterback, Steve Campbell, at the controls. But while Campbell threw the ball only nine times and tried not to lose, Keller threw the ball all over west Texas, completing 25-of-45 passes against a defense designed to rattle him. “Purdue brought the kitchen sink and Sam showed so much maturity out there,'' ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. “A comeback win in your first-ever start? What's wrong with that?''
Purdue, which has now lost its bowl game in four of the last five years, took the lead twice in the fourth quarter on Orton touchdown passes. But the defense appeared to run out of gas late while the Devils kept coming.
“We practiced extremely well early (in the week), and I think we left a little bit of the game on the practice field,” said Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller, who is 3-5 in bowl games at the school.
ASU took a 10-9 lead into the fourth quarter before Orton, who finished with 281 yards and three touchdowns, found receiver Taylor Stubblefield with a 5-yard touchdown pass with 14:16 left to play.
Stubblefield ended the day with seven catches for 92 yards, extending his NCAA record for career receptions to 316.
The Devils closed the gap to 16-13 when Jimmy Verdon's fumble recovery on the Purdue 19 set up a Jesse Ainsworth 34-yard field goal with 10:33 left, and took the lead at 20-16 when Keller and Burgess hooked up on their first screen for a 41 yards touchdown.
“That one was kind of funny, the cornerback just backed away, so I just played off him and headed for the end zone,'' Burgess said. “We felt like we could move the ball all day.''
ASU appeared to have the game sewn up when Josh Barrett recovered a fumble by Purdue's Brandon Jones with 3:11 to play. But the Devils were forced to punt, and Justin Burks' long snap skipped off the turf.
By the time punter Chris MacDonald collected it, Purdue's Bernard Pollard had swooped in for a block that rolled out of bounds at the ASU 36. Orton threw to Stubblefield for 20 yards before lofting a 6-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-6 tight end Charles Davis, who won a jump ball with ASU's Emmanuel Franklin to put the Boilermakers back up, 24-20, with 1:14 left.
But Keller didn't need that much time — or ASU's two remaining timeouts — to answer. He hit Moey Mutz for four yards, then found sophomore Terry Richardson for 32 yards along the right sideline.
With the Purdue defense wilting, Keller found Derek Hagan (nine catches, 182 yards) on a crossing route for 26 more before setting up the second delayed screen to Burgess, who danced through defenders to the end zone to cap an 80-yard drive that took just 31 seconds.
Orton had one last chance for Purdue but only reached midfield before time expired. “Sam played great today,’’ Koetter said, ‘‘but the game was won by our defense.’’
ASU's defense was especially dominating in the first half, allowing just 42 total yards. The Boilermakers didn't register a first down until the 12-minute mark of the second quarter and their only points of the half came on defense, when Brandon Villarreal tackled running back Preston Jones in the end zone for a safety.