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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA’s bowl hopes back

    Just when the season looked as if it was slipping away yet again for the Arizona football team, the Wildcats snatched it right back.

    After enduring two major bumps in the road – losses at New Mexico and Stanford – Arizona’s season seemed to be going in the wrong direction, just as in years past. But under head coach Mike Stoops, a mid-season home victory over a top-tier opponent is needed almost every season.

    The Wildcats got it again this year, and it may have never meant so much.

    Despite trailing by 10 points at halftime, Arizona (5-2, 3-1 Pacific 10 Conference) used a 28-point third quarter explosion to knock off No. 25 California (4-2, 2-1) 42-27 at Arizona Stadium on Saturday night in front of an announced attendance of 48,372, while simultaneously saving its season.

    The win shot Arizona into a four-way tie for first in the Pac-10 standings and only one win away from qualifying for its first bowl berth since 1998.

    Arizona will host No. 5 USC for Homecoming next weekend with first place in the conference at stake.

    “”Obviously I am very excited about the effort of both the coaches and the players. I can’t put into words to describe what we came through to get here,”” Stoops said. “”There was much written and much said and a lot of times we were written off, but we keep coming back.

    “”We’re playing for first place next week,”” Stoops added. “”And that’s a position we haven’t been in (in) a long time.””

    Arizona was powered by its running game – only it wasn’t the familiar face of sophomore running back Nic Grigsby that led the way, but rather true freshman Keola Antolin.

    Grigsby got the start for the Wildcats, but he fumbled the ball on his only carry – Arizona’s first possession – and the turnover led to a Cal touchdown, which gave the Golden Bears an early 7-0 lead. Grigsby didn’t return for the remainder of the game.

    Antolin entered the game two series later and ignited Arizona’s offense.

    In his biggest workload in collegiate play, Antolin carried the ball 21 times for 149 yards and scored three touchdowns. Despite his small stature of 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Antolin was the biggest player on the field.

    “”I just came out and did my thing. When they call my number, I just stepped up and made plays,”” said Antolin, who heard he was too short more than once during his recruitment process. “”This was my first real college football experience. I was so nervous. After my first touchdown, I calmed down, though.””

    In Grigsby’s absence – who Stoops said would remain the Wildcats’ starting running back “”unless he continues to put the ball on the ground”” – Antolin surely made a case for more playing time.

    And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

    “”He really stepped up this game and we are glad he is back healthy,”” offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said of Antolin. “”Competition really forces those guys to bring it every day to practice.””

    Perhaps the biggest play of the game came in the third quarter after an Antolin touchdown gave the Wildcats the lead, but it wasn’t the freshman who delivered. This time it was the Wildcat defense.

    Arizona cornerback Devin Ross picked off California quarterback Nate Longshore and took it back 21 yards for a touchdown, giving Arizona an eight-point cushion of 34-27.

    While the play was officially ruled an interception, Ross ripped the ball out of California receiver Verran Tucker’s hands before advancing for the score.

    “”I just took it from him, I guess,”” Ross said. “”It was a nice job by the defensive line that gave good pressure, and I came up with the pick.””

    Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama finished the game 16-for-27 with 225 yards and two touchdowns, a 56-yard bomb to wide receiver Mike Thomas and a 35-yarder to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

    While the Wildcats are taking in the win over the Golden Bears – a victory that was particularly needed in order for Arizona to remain optimistic about this season – the team is surely looking toward the Trojans next weekend.

    Though USC will undoubtedly be a heavy favorite, Arizona has had a knack for playing tough against USC, not to mention that the game is at home and the contest falls on Homecoming.

    All those factors, in addition to the confidence gained with the win over the Golden Bears, is enough for Arizona to believe it has a legitimate shot knocking off one of the nation’s most storied powers.

    “”You have to. Why not?”” Thomas said of believing in Arizona’s ability to beat the Trojans next week. “”That’s what you play for – to win. So why wouldn’t we go in there with confidence and believing that we are going to win?

    “”We – at home – we are undefeated at home this season,”” Thomas added. “”We are going to try and keep that going.””

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