TEMPE, Ariz. -- Midway through the fourth quarter, trailing by three and staring at third down, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh reached deep into his bag of tricks -- so deep he pulled out a play that, until then, did not exist.

Never run during a game, never seen on video by opposing coaches, the looping 13-yard pass from quarterback Andrew Luck to tight end Konrad Reuland kept the Cardinal's winning (and perhaps Rose Bowl-saving) drive alive.

"It was brand-new this week," Harbaugh said after the resulting touchdown, with five minutes remaining, produced a 17-13 victory over Arizona State on Saturday. "We'd never run it in my four years."

The win kept No. 7 Stanford on pace for a possible bid to the Rose Bowl if top-ranked Oregon, which survived a scare at Cal, jumps into the national championship game. It also improved Stanford's record to 9-1 -- its best start in 59 years.

"It's not often that you win pretty on the road," Luck said. "This one definitely tested our mettle."

Luck could have been speaking personally. He struggled to get comfortable against ASU's ferocious pass rush and committed two turnovers in ASU territory: a first-half fumble at the 27 and a fourth-quarter interception at the 6.

But when Stanford needed Luck at his best, he responded -- completing 4 of 4 passes for 30 yards on the winning drive, including the strike to Reuland that came off his back foot with a defender in his face.


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"I very much wanted to score," said Luck, whose interception earlier in the drive was nullified by a penalty on ASU. "I didn't want to let the team down."

Stanford got some help on the winning drive in the form of two penalties on ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who responded poorly to a face-mask call by committing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Instead of having first down at the 29, Stanford found itself on ASU's 7 -- all courtesy of Burfict. Two plays later, fullback Owen Marecic rumbled in for a touchdown that gave Stanford a four-point lead.

"There was no face mask," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "They called it because he grabbed the jersey, and it looked like a face mask."

The sequence added some sparks to what was otherwise a grinding, physical affair.

Stanford scored on its first possession, but it quickly became apparent that this would be unlike any Cardinal game this season. ASU's stout, swift defense filled the running lanes, pressured Luck and limited Stanford's downfield passing attack.

Plays that have worked all year, such as third-and-short runs out of the power formation, were unsuccessful. ASU even managed to sack Luck -- just the fourth by an opponent this season.

"They held us to negative-yardage plays," Luck said. "It was tough sledding."

Arizona State wasted no time responding to Stanford's opening touchdown, covering 74 yards in a mere seven plays with tailback Cameron Marshall, the former Valley Christian star, leading the way. (Marshall finished with 92 yards rushing and 33 receiving.) The Sun Devils had a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter, but quarterback Steven Threet collided with Stanford cornerback Michael Thomas a yard short of the end zone. The punishing hit jarred the ball loose, and Stanford recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

The Cardinal took a 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter, but it did not last long. Marshall's 39-yard run highlighted a long scoring drive that gave the Sun Devils a 13-10 lead. (They missed the extra point.) "This was the kind of game that brings guys together because they have to trust each other,'' Harbaugh said. "Champions win these type of games.''

  • Receiver Chris Owusu did not play because of an undisclosed injury. "It happened late in the week,'' Harbaugh said. "We thought he'd be able to play.''

  • Officials from the Sugar and Alamo bowls attended the game. Stanford is a long shot for the Sugar but could land in the Alamo, which is No. 2 in the Pac-10 pecking order behind the Rose Bowl.

  • Former Leland High School and Arizona State star Pat Tillman was honored at halftime for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. The late Tillman's former ASU teammates accepted a plaque on his behalf.

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.