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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Field-goal blunders cost ‘Cats in nailbiter

    ASU safety Troy Nolan intercepts a Willie Tuitama pass intended for wide receiver Delashaun Dean in Saturdays 20-17 Sun Devil win over Arizona in Tempe. Tuitama had two interceptions and also lost a fumble in the Wildcats season finale.
    ASU safety Troy Nolan intercepts a Willie Tuitama pass intended for wide receiver Delashaun Dean in Saturday’s 20-17 Sun Devil win over Arizona in Tempe. Tuitama had two interceptions and also lost a fumble in the Wildcats’ season finale.

    TEMPE – Special teams isn’t often regarded as the most vital aspect to a winning team’s success, but it often turns out to be the difference in close football games.

    And nobody knows that better now than the Arizona football team.

    Arizona’s inability to execute a field goal and the decision not to attempt one toward the end of the game proved to be the difference in its 20-17 season-ending loss to rival ASU on Saturday.

    “”The whole end of the game was kind of confusing,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops.

    With Arizona down by 10 points with just over two minutes remaining, the Wildcats were facing fourth-and-goal from just outside the Sun Devils’ one-yard line.

    Instead of sending out the field goal unit for what would have essentially been an extra-point try, the Wildcats attempted to score a touchdown that would have brought them within three.

    Arizona still had two timeouts remaining. With a successful field goal, it still would have had a legitimate shot at getting the ball back down by only one score.

    “”I don’t know, I just thought we needed to score (a touchdown),”” Stoops said. “”I just thought we were down there. We thought about (kicking the field goal), but Willie (Tuitama) got us down inside the two, we thought we could score and we felt good about the play. … We just didn’t execute it well.””

    On the fourth-down play, Tuitama receive the snap and rolled out to the right, only to find a defensive lineman in his face. He spotted running back Chris Jennings near the end zone out of the corner of his eye and tossed a pass that was slightly behind him.

    Thud.

    The ball hit the ground, and the Wildcats’ hopes of making a comeback went down with it.

    “”I wasn’t really surprised at the coaches’ decision, and I was hoping we would go for it,”” Tuitama said. “”We had the play, but we just didn’t make it. As soon as I came around the edge, there was a guy in my face and I just tried to get the ball out.””

    ASU head coach Dennis Erickson supported Stoops’ decision to go for a touchdown.

    “”I would have done exactly what they did,”” Erickson said. “”I wasn’t in that situation, but it is easy to say now. But they went for a touchdown and I probably would have done the same thing.””

    In close, low-scoring games, the opportunity to get points rarely presents itself, and Arizona was unable to capitalize on those few chances it had.

    With 8:09 remaining in the third quarter, the Wildcats found themselves in kicker Jason Bondzio’s range for a 47-yard attempt. The Arizona field-goal unit rushed onto the field, but holder and punter Keenyn Crier didn’t join them.

    When Crier realized his absence, he dashed from the sideline to set up for the try.

    Though he made it in position before the play clock expired, he was still late.

    The mental error caused Bondzio to rush his timing when setting up for the kick, and the try was eventually blocked by ASU’s Michael Marquardt.

    “”I like to get into a rhythm, take my steps back, and I felt a little rushed,”” Bondzio said. “”I guess it was just one of those mental errors on his part that happens once every 1,000 times. … I hit it solid, they just got good penetration.””

    The special teams miscues ended up coming back to haunt the Wildcats in the worst way, and it may have ended up costing them their season.

    “”The mistakes we made were big,”” Bondzio said. “”It is unfortunate it happened because that is stuff we usually get right.””

    – Brian Kimball contributed to this report

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