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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Home sweet Homecoming …again

    UA quarterback Willie Tuitama hugs head coach Mike Stoops after Arizonas 24-20 win over No. 8 California Saturday at Arizona Stadium. An interception by linebacker Ronnie Palmer in the fourth quarter secured the win.
    UA quarterback Willie Tuitama hugs head coach Mike Stoops after Arizona’s 24-20 win over No. 8 California Saturday at Arizona Stadium. An interception by linebacker Ronnie Palmer in the fourth quarter secured the win.

    Déjá Vu.

    For the second straight season, Arizona did what it wasn’t supposed to do. It upset a top-10 team. At home. On Homecoming.

    Chris Henry ran for two second-half touchdowns as the Wildcats (5-5, 3-4 Pacific 10 Conference) scored 21 unanswered points en route to a 24-20 win over No. 8 California (8-2, 6-1) in front of 55,519 fans at Arizona Stadium Saturday afternoon.

    “”It’s just big,”” said quarterback Willie Tuitama. “”It’s just huge.””

    Coupled with last week’s win over then-No. 25 Washington State, the win marked the first time Arizona had beaten two ranked opponents in succession since 1994.

    “”It does wonders for us,”” said the running back Henry, who finished with 57 yards – 50 of which came in the second half – and the two scores “”Two top-25 (teams), two great opponents.””

    Arizona’s monumental upset almost wasn’t when Cal quarterback Nate Longshore hit wideout DeSean Jackson down the left sideline late in the fourth quarter. Jackson slipped a tackle and tiptoed 63 yards into the end zone to put the Bears up with just over two minutes to play.

    But after a lengthy review, it was ruled that Jackson stepped out of bounds at the Arizona 41.

    “”It was heart dropped when they scored,”” said linebacker Ronnie Palmer. “”We didn’t think there was no chance.””

    Added cornerback Antoine Cason, who was beat on the play: “”It felt like I got stabbed in the heart.””

    After an incomplete pass, Longshore connected on his next two throws to set the Bears up first-and-10 at the Arizona 27.

    As Longshore dropped back two plays later, defensive tackle Paul Phillip stuck his hand in the air, got a piece of the throw, and Palmer did the rest, catching the floating ball at the Arizona 18 and falling at the 20 to secure the win.

    “”Man, I dreamt it for a while, and it finally happened,”” said Palmer, who has dropped two near-interceptions earlier this season. “”Third time’s the charm.””

    It was the first interception of Palmer’s career.

    “”And it couldn’t have come at a better time,”” he said.

    Tuitama took two knees to send the fans spilling onto the field, an eerie reminder of Arizona’s 52-14 stomping of then-No. 7 UCLA just 371 days prior on Homecoming Nov. 5 of last year.

    To many Wildcats, however, this win was different.

    “”UCLA, that was the first time,”” Palmer said. “”We’ve been there before, so we know what we’re capable of.””

    Said Stoops: “”This one means a little more. (Cal) is a great team, and they have beat us soundly the last two years.””

    Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Henry took a hand off left and beat three Cal defenders to the end zone to tie the game at 17. It was Arizona’s first touchdown in the final frame since Sept. 16’s win over Stephen F. Austin.

    But it wouldn’t be its last in the game.

    A few minutes later, Cason jumped in front of Longshore’s pass and returned it 39 yards for his first-career touchdown to give Arizona a 24-17 lead with 12:39 to play in the game.

    “”I read the throw, and he had an option where to throw it,”” Cason said, “”and he looked one way and looked the other way and made the bad decision.””

    It looked like Cal would even the score just seconds later, but a wide-open Lavell Hawkins tripped himself, subsequently falling at the Arizona 1, and the Wildcat defense held firm, forcing the Bears to settle for Tom Schneider’s 20-yard field goal that cut the score to 24-20 with 9:51 to play.

    “”In the beginning of the fourth quarter, everyone was yelling,”” said Palmer, who finished with four tackles. “”Everybody was ‘Hoo-hah,’ and we trying to get everybody pumped.

    “”We were saying ‘We’ve got two more drives. It’s going to happen. Two more drives, we’ve got to do it. It’s going to be on us.'””

    Late in the third quarter, Henry’s second effort cut the Cal lead to seven points at 17-10. After he was stuffed up the middle, Henry found room to his left and fell into the end zone.

    “”We were going to run in the second half,”” Henry said, “”and we knew it was going to produce for us.””

    Two plays earlier, Tuitama hit wideout Mike Thomas on a swing pass and Thomas darted 44 yards down the sideline into the end zone. But following a review, he was ruled out at the 5-yard line.

    “”We got ‘Mike T’ on the big one,”” Tuitama said. “”And that just kind of started things going.””

    Until the Arizona offense woke up, it looked like Saturday night would belong to Cal’s most explosive player, Jackson.

    Just three minutes into the game, Jackson, who was battling a chest cold, took Nick Folk’s punt 95 yards untouched on his way to the end zone just three minutes into the game for a 7-0 lead.

    It was Jackson’s fourth of the season and the fifth of his career, both Pac-10 records.

    Then in the second quarter Jackson took a short pass from Longshore and broke through the Wildcat zone defense, sprinting 67 yards untouched down the right sideline for a 17-3 Cal lead with 6:14 to play in the half.

    “”I thought DeSean Jackson for them was one of the best games I’ve seen played from a receiver in quite some time,”” Stoops said.

    Safety Corey Hall picked off a deflected Longshore pass midway through the first quarter that set the Wildcats up at the Cal 46-yard line. But after a 22-yard Tuitama pass to Thomas down to the Bears’ 22, Arizona was forced to settle for Folk’s 39-yard field goal that trimmed the Cal lead to 7-3 with 5:59 to play.

    On the ensuing drive, Marshawn Lynch broke a 79-yard run that went for a score, but Cal was called for holding on the play, cutting the run 23 yards short and setting the Bears up at Arizona’s 33-yard line. Arizona forced Cal to settle for a field goal and a 10-3 lead.

    “”Our defense played outstanding again, and we just fed off that,”” Tuitama said.

    Down 17-3 at the half, something clicked.

    “”I think more than anything, we had a giant belief that this could happen,”” said linebacker Spencer Larsen. “”And we didn’t give up the big plays. If you don’t give up the big plays, then you have a chance.””

    With two big wins over teams that might have looked past them, next week’s game in Eugene, Ore., will be against a No. 21 Oregon team that will be focused on the Wildcats.

    “”Now people aren’t going to look past us any more,”” Larsen said. “”I can’t say this one was a fluke, but …if you start looking past us, then that’s how you get beat.””

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