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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Cats hit the jackpot

    UA quarterback Willie Tuitama celebrates with fans after a 31-10 win over ASU Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Tuitama beat the Sun Devils for the first time in his career and the Wildcats earned a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 20 against No. 17 BYU.
    UA quarterback Willie Tuitama celebrates with fans after a 31-10 win over ASU Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Tuitama beat the Sun Devils for the first time in his career and the Wildcats earned a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 20 against No. 17 BYU.

    After 10 years of frustration and three straight losses to ASU, the Arizona football program would no longer be denied victory.

    The Wildcats overcame a slow start and a 10-7 halftime deficit, erupting in the third quarter en route to a 31-10 victory Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

    Now, Arizona will be invited to play in the Las Vegas Bowl, which will be held in Sam Boyd Stadium on Dec. 20, against No. 17 BYU.

    “”It’s huge. It’s a big win for the program and a big win for the seniors,”” UA wide receiver Delashaun Dean said. “”We knew we didn’t want to send the seniors out without beating ASU. We knew what we had to do and we took care of business.””

    For the second time during UA head coach Mike Stoops’ tenure, the Wildcats knocked off the Sun Devils (5-7, 5-4 Pacific 10 Conference).

    But this win carries much more significance for the program. The victory gave the squad a 7-5 record overall and a 5-4 mark in the Pac-10 – the first time Arizona has posted a winning record since the 1998’s 12-1 Holiday Bowl champion squad.

    To make the win even sweeter for the Wildcats, their efforts put a halt to ASU’s streak of four straight bowl game appearances.

    “”We felt like we were in control, but the scoreboard didn’t say it (at halftime),”” UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “”So it was good to be in a tough spot and again show our character and toughness of this team, to go in a tough spot at halftime and say, ‘Hey, we don’t need to do anything special. We just need to go out in the second half and execute our defense and our offense.'””

    And on Senior Night, quarterback Willie Tuitama and wide receiver Mike Thomas, fittingly, spearheaded Arizona’s 21-point third quarter that effectively ended the game.

    Tuitama found sophomore wide out Delashaun Dean in the endzone with 7:23 left in the quarter to give the Wildcats the lead for good. ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter was picked off by senior cornerback Marquis Hundley, who followed a convoy of Wildcats down the ASU sideline to the 35-yard line.

    Four plays later running back Nic Grigbsy – who became the first UA tailback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season since Clarence Farmer in 2001 – scored from 12 yards out to give Arizona an 11-point advantage, but the killer blow was delivered two minutes later.

    Thomas fielded a punt at the UA 48-yard line after it bounced over his head. He turned to the far side of the field and followed his blockers – many of whom delivered pancakes – 52 yards for a score that sent a sold-out crowd of 58,704 into a frenzy.

    “”It’s sweeter than sweet-potato pie. It was good. You can’t take away this kind of feeling,”” Thomas said. “”We’ll remember this forever. Our last game at Arizona, to go out the way we did, it was awesome.””

    But the Wildcats aren’t done yet. In two weeks they will play a 10-2 BYU team that beat them the last time they faced each other – a 20-7 UA loss in Provo, Utah in 2007.

    Arizona can avenge that loss – a three-game losing streak to Mountain West Conference teams – and put an emphatic ending on a breakout season if it manages to knock off the Cougars in two weeks.

    But regardless of what happens on Dec. 20 in Sin City, what happened in Tucson on Saturday night will be remembered for years to come for one reason: Arizona football is back.

    “”I don’t talk too much about the rivalry games and I try to look at it as another game because if you put so much pressure on it, it might come back and cost you. But words can’t really describe how I’m feeling right now,”” Thomas said.

    “”I feel great. I went out with a bang. The team went out with a bang. There’s a smile on everybody’s faces. It’s good and I’m ready for the next one.””

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