Posted on September 6, 2019
The Pac-12 Era has been a roller coaster ride for Arizona Football. Since the Conference expanded to add Colorado and Utah in 2011, the Wildcats have been dealt their share of improbable wins and bizarre losses.
In Part 2 of this two-part series of flashback vignettes, I take you through the second six of 12 games that are sure to make Cat fans smile or groan. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Arizona 27, Washington 26
Rich Rodriguez pulled yet another rabbit out of his hat in 2014. This time, it was a forced fumble by Tra’Mayne Bondurant with just over a minute left, followed by a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Seasons of destiny only seem to happen to programs once in a fan’s lifetime, if they’re lucky. To Cat fans, what happened in 2014 seemed beyond magical. More than a dream. It was the result of a head coach imprinting into his entire program the belief in yourself and your teammates.
It is one thing to make a single comeback in a given season, it is quite another thing to build a program around comebacks by making them happen year after year. To do so, it takes a leader from the top-down who infuses the people around him with belief – belief in a system, belief in each other, belief in themselves.
This philosophy is common between all the players who played for Arizona in the Rich Rodriguez Era, and it was this philosophy that provided the program with some of its most successful years in the history of the school.
Never give up.
Arizona 42, Arizona State 35
It was a typical late November day in Arizona, in the upper 80s and sunny. Per Rodriguez’s instructions, the scoreboard did not update the crowd that Stanford had beaten UCLA. The result meant the winner of the Territorial Cup would claim the South Division title, and face Oregon in the Championship Game.
But by mid-third quarter, despite the notoriously horrible cell phone reception at the stadium, word had spread amongst the fans that the winner would become the Division Champion.
The anticipation and excitement rose as Arizona scored two touchdowns in the third quarter while holding ASU scoreless. The crowd then reached fervor-pitch when back-up Sun Devil quarterback Mike Bercovici threw an interception with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Could an unheralded football program from a “basketball school” really take down its ultimate rival at home, on national TV, in the biggest game in Territorial Cup history to claim the South Championship?
It all came down to the final drive, with another fourth-down stop by the defense. The referee blew his whistle and 10,000 students poured onto the field to celebrate one of the most monumental Arizona wins ever, ensuring a 10-win season for only the third time in program history.
Oregon 51, Arizona 13
Hello darkness my old friend
The lyrics from an old Simon & Garfunkel song aptly sum up the sentiment of countless Wildcat football fans in the Pac-12 Era.
They’ve learned to be prepared for absolute disasters, some so far beyond unexplainable, they might feel like they’re having an out-of-body experience.
The 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game was one such experience.
It was a cold, rainy night in Silicon Valley, a setting in keeping with a rematch between two high-powered offenses. Many expected a video-game shootout. But Oregon did most of the shooting, blowing the game wide-open in the first half, and leaving Arizona fans with a familiar taste in their mouths.
For the past decade or so, UofA football had teased Wildcat fans with the idea that it might eventually match the prestige of the basketball program, as it had, if only briefly, in the Dick Tomey Era. But each time after, their hopes were dashed.
A fantastic season that had brought the program to heights reached only twice previously in the 1990s—one in which some said Arizona had a chance of making the playoffs if they had won—was quickly coming to an ironic end.
Boise State 38, Arizona 30
The entire 2014 season—heck, the entire Rodriguez Era—seemed to have led up to this game: The 2014 Fiesta Bowl
In typical Arizona Football fashion, the Wildcats came out flat and gave up an early deficit. Congruently, the team rallied back and was driving, down eight points, in the red zone with twenty seconds left in the game.
With all the momentum in the Wildcats’ favor, Anu Solomon dropped back to pass, but decided to run the ball with no timeouts remaining. He was stopped short of the end zone, the legendary 2014 season came to a crashing end.
To truly encapsulate what losing this game felt like you need to go back to the 2010 season. That year, Arizona started out 7-1 and Head Coach Mike Stoops was making public statements about finally bringing Arizona its first ever Rose Bowl Appearance. The Wildcats then went 1-10 over their next 11 games, including a disaster Territorial Cup (the infamous Alex Zendeja’s missed extra points), ending with Stoops being fired in the middle of the 2011 season.
Rich Rodriguez had then built the program back up, finally catapulting the Wildcats back into national relevance – a New Year’s Six Bowl – only to lose on a bone-headed play by a freshman quarterback after the coaching staff clearly did not prepare the squad to be ready to play from the opening kick-off.
Arizona 56, ASU 35
Coming into this game, Arizona had two wins and nine losses on the season after suffering injury after injury to numerous positions.
Still, wild things happen in the Territorial Cup, and this game was the epitome of why anyone can win, no matter the circumstances.
Remarkably, the Wildcats did not attempt a single pass in the second half, putting up 511 yards rushing on the game, a school record at the time. It may not be a stretch to suggest that a game like this may never happen again.
And while it doesn’t make up for the horrible season, it certainly was a satisfying night.
Arizona 45, Cal 44
It was one of those games that seems destined to remain at the top of the list in the Cal-Arizona series, a series that has produced several outstanding games in the Pac-12 Era.
This was also the last instant-classic game of the Rodriguez Era, as the unorthodox coach was terminated at the end of this season. It capped a tenure characterized by numerous miraculous comeback victories, outstanding accomplishments, and a handful of legendary players.
Despite the controversy surrounding his departure, Rodriguez will likely be remembered as an innovative coach who brought the program back to national relevance, four straight bowl appearances and a 10-win season.
That doesn’t happen often in Tucson.
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