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Sun Devils victorious in season opener

August 31, 2008

Led by a terrific performance by senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State jumped on Northern Arizona early and cruised to a 30-13 win Saturday in front of a crowd of 62,707 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Carpenter went 22-for-28 for 388 yards and a touchdown, and he tied the school record by completing 13 straight passes in the first half. Carpenter also led the team in rushing with 40 yards on five carries, as the Sun Devils took a 27-0 lead into halftime and won their season opener for the sixth consecutive season.

"He made some great throws," head coach Dennis Erickson said of Carpenter. "He knows what's going on. He understands our offense and what we're doing. I thought he did a heck of a good job."

Junior Dimitri Nance ran for two touchdowns in just his second career start, and wide receivers Michael Jones and Kerry Taylor each set career highs in receiving yards. Jones had six catches for 162 yards, while Taylor surpassed his total yardage from all of last season with 93 yards on four receptions, including a 52-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the game.

"A lot of hard work in the off-season paid off," Taylor said. "Rudy [Carpenter] made some great throws to me and it felt kind of easy. I'm pretty happy with the performance, but there are always things you can work on."

ASU's offensive line, which included three players starting their first college game as an offensive lineman (tackles Jon Hargis and Adam Tello and center Thomas Altieri), allowed just one sack in the victory and earned praise from Carpenter.

"I thought they protected pretty well," Carpenter said. "For the most part, I had a lot of time to sit back there, recover and make some good plays."

The Sun Devil defense shut down Northern Arizona's offense through the first half, allowing just 98 yards of total offense and five first downs before halftime. Linebacker Mike Nixon led the team with eight tackles, and defensive end Dexter Davis recorded two sacks in the game.

ASU wasted little time in getting its offense going. Carpenter completed his first pass attempt on the second play of the game, a 13-yard completion to Chris McGaha, to move him past the 8,000-yard mark in career passing yards. Three plays later, he connected with Taylor, who broke away from the Lumberjack defense for a 52-yard touchdown reception.

It was Carpenter's 66th career touchdown pass, which broke his tie with Jake Plummer and moved him into second alone on the school's all-time list. Andrew Walter holds the record with 85 touchdown passes.

Late in the first quarter, a 31-yard punt return by Kyle Williams put the Sun Devils at the NAU 23, and 2007 Lou Groza Award winner Thomas Weber hit a 34-yard field goal to put the team up by 10.

ASU's next drive began at its own 1, but the combination of Carpenter's passing and Nance's running helped the Sun Devils go 99 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. Nance capped off the drive with a three-yard scoring run to increase the lead to 17-0.

The Devils added another touchdown on their next possession, as Carpenter completed a 28-yard pass to Jones and a 34-yarder to Williams on consecutive plays to move the team inside the 10, and Nance then scored his second touchdown with a six-yard run.

"We came out early and played like we talked about all week," Erickson said. "The biggest thing was to come out and play hard early to try to get them out of the game, and we did. We came out and played very well in the first half."

Weber added a 36-yard field goal later in the second quarter, and he converted from 28 yards with 8:14 remaining in the third to give ASU a 30-0 lead.

The Sun Devils began substituting for their starters in the third quarter, and NAU took advantage by scoring on three straight possessions in the second half. The Lumberjacks got a field goal at the end of the third, and then scored a touchdown and a field goal in the fourth quarter.

"I thought our first group played extremely well, and then we substituted," Erickson said. "That was a thing we wanted to do. We played a lot of guys, a whole bunch of them, and we didn't play very well. We kind of lost the momentum there in the second half."

ASU returns to action Saturday, facing Pacific-10 Conference foe Stanford at 7 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium.