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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Tui goes out on top

    UA quarterback Willie Tuitama and his teammates pose with the Territorial Cup following a 31-10 Wildcat win over ASU Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Tuitamas win over the Sun Devils and the subsequent berth in the Las Vegas Bowl help supplant him as one of the programs best quarterbacks.
    UA quarterback Willie Tuitama and his teammates pose with the Territorial Cup following a 31-10 Wildcat win over ASU Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Tuitama’s win over the Sun Devils and the subsequent berth in the Las Vegas Bowl help supplant him as one of the program’s best quarterbacks.

    Before Arizona squared off against ASU in Saturday night’s Duel in the Desert, only five members of the Wildcats knew what it felt like to knock off ASU.

    Now they all do.

    After what has been a long journey, for the seniors in particular, the Wildcats finally overcame the Sun Devils and finished the season with a winning record, the first team to accomplish that feat under head coach Mike Stoops.

    The ASU monkey is off their backs, and the Wildcats can finally focus on the Las Vegas Bowl, which will be held Dec. 20 against No. 17 BYU.

    For senior quarterback Willie Tuitama, it may have further legitimized everything he has

    accomplished during his four-year reign as the Wildcats’ signal caller. Without the win over ASU, Tuitama could have been regarded as one of Arizona’s greats, but stamped with a “”coming up short”” label.

    Now that’s irrelevant.

    “”Willie is the man that makes it all go,”” Stoops said. “”I’m really happy for him. It’s very taxing being the quarterback for a program trying to change its direction. He has handled it well and I’m happy to see him end it like this.””

    Heading into the game, Tuitama already held the all-time records at Arizona for passing yards, career touchdown passes and career completions.

    But there was one thing he couldn’t get any worse at: beating ASU. The quarterback had come up short in all three of his previous attempts.

    Tuitama may have had plenty of moments of accomplishment at Arizona, including his first start during his freshman season in 2005 in which he led Arizona in a blowout win over then-No. 7 UCLA on Homecoming, but the ASU game has never been a source of accomplishment – just pain.

    Leaving both ASU games in each of his first two seasons due to injury and then losing last year in Tempe with a bowl berth on the line – the first game against the rival he finished – Tuitama had previously come up far short against the Sun Devils.

    In his last try Saturday night at Arizona Stadium, however, the quarterback left on top, not only cementing his own legacy as a Wildcat, but setting the table for Arizona’s program to continue to grow in the right direction.

    “”I don’t know what my legacy is, that’s for everyone else to decide,”” Tuitama said. “”I just feel great about getting this win and putting us over that little gap right there. We can say that we are over the hump now. We are going to Vegas, and everyone is excited.””

    The excitement began when Stoops pulled Tuitama’s redshirt his freshman season. Fans created signs that read, “”The Future,”” and people had already thought Tuitama was the face of the program, even before his signature win against the Bruins in 2005.

    Even with a bowl berth already secured this season, without a win yesterday over the Sun Devils, Tuitama’s tenure at Arizona could have passed him by.

    These days, not only are quarterbacks judged by their entire body of work, but also by their performances against their rival.

    Tuitama said prior to the game he didn’t plan on coming up short. And he didn’t, instead posting a solid statistic line of 25-for-37 passing for 284 yards and two touchdowns.

    Even better, Tuitama outplayed counterpart Rudy Carpenter, previously known for his ability to knock off Arizona under any circumstances. Carpenter threw a lowly 13-for-31 for 124 yards and a touchdown.

    “”He needs to get a bowl win, that’s what he needs to do now,”” UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said with a smile. “”That’s the next thing and he’s been through a lot here, and I am really proud of the way he has persevered and hung in there, and that tells you a lot about his character.

    “”But you judge quarterbacks by how they play against their rivals,”” Dykes added. “”That’s ultimately how you do it. Do you win or lose and how do you play in big games, and (Tuitama) didn’t turn the ball over (Saturday) and I thought he played extremely well.””

    Overjoyed after the game, Stoops thanked previous players like Antoine Cason and Spencer Larsen for helping boost the program in the right direction despite coming up short during their time with the program.

    “”We have been so close to getting going in a more positive direction,”” Stoops said. “”Every time we get there we kind of stumble. This win was significant, I think, for those who aren’t here anymore. The Antoine Cason’s and the Spencer Larsen’s. There were so many guys who helped lay the foundation for this team. It hasn’t been an easy journey to overcome, but I think we may be there.””

    Perhaps Stoops will always remember Tuitama as the one who built on that foundation, leading Arizona to its first bowl game in a decade – which could in turn set the stage for even more future success.

    Thanks in large part to Tuitama, “”The Future”” looks even brighter in Tucson.

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