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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Defense steps up against potent Cal offense in second half

    Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason heads into the end zone for his first career interception returned for a touchdown in the Wildcats 24-20 upset of No. 8 California Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Casons score gave Arizona its first lead of the contest, which the Wildcats never relinquished.
    Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason heads into the end zone for his first career interception returned for a touchdown in the Wildcats’ 24-20 upset of No. 8 California Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Cason’s score gave Arizona its first lead of the contest, which the Wildcats never relinquished.

    “”The Drive,”” John Elway’s famous 98-yard jaunt in the 1986 AFC Championship game, put the NFL quarterback on the national radar as a player to watch over what became a Hall of Fame career.

    California’s 72-yard drive in the waning moments of the Arizona football team’s 24-20 Homecoming victory Saturday clearly won’t have the same impact on the Wildcats’ defense. But it may have proven the unit belongs among the elite groups in the Pacific 10 Conference.

    “”We have to keep showing it, we have to keep with it,”” said cornerback Antoine Cason. “”Winning says a lot, and we just have to keep playing.””

    Arizona, which entered Saturday tied with Cal for third in the Pac-10 in opponents’ scoring average (19.7), held its seventh team in eight games to 21 points or fewer.

    The Wildcats forced quarterback Nate Longshore, who came in as the conference leader in pass efficiency, into his worst performance of the season (17-of-36 passing, one touchdown, three interceptions).

    And after allowing the Golden Bears, previously tied for the Pac-10 lead in scoring, a 17-3 halftime advantage, Arizona gave up only a field goal the rest of the way.

    The defense’s final trip to the field clinched that feat.

    Cal took the ball on its own 10-yard line with 3:14 left in the game. It needed a touchdown to avoid an upset to an Arizona team it outscored 66-0 the previous two seasons.

    Longshore stepped back in the pocket on each of the next 11 plays. He moved the team down to Arizona’s 18 with less than two minutes remaining, only to throw an interception to linebacker Ronnie Palmer.

    Game over.

    “”I was blessed for just the moment,”” Palmer said of his pick, which came after defensive tackle Paul Philipp tipped Longshore’s third-down pass. “”I’m going to try to enjoy it for as long as I can.””

    Arizona’s big stand was set up by the biggest individual performance of the night from either team.

    A minute into the final quarter, Cason stepped in front of fullback Byron Storer and dashed 39 yards down the east sideline to give Arizona its decisive lead. It was Cason’s first career touchdown return and his 10th career pick overall.

    “”No better feeling than that,”” he said. “”That was the play that, I think, pretty much won the game for us. It was a great feeling.””

    Longshore had found Storer for 14 yards near the east sideline on the previous play, and Cason said he knew to keep that area of the field in mind.

    “”On film, I saw that when he’s going to throw the ball, that’s immediately where he’s going to look,”” Cason said. “”He had a decision to make to throw it here or here, and he threw it that way.””

    When Cal used a 44-yard completion to wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins to get to the Wildcats’ 1 in the third quarter, everyone in Arizona Stadium could figure the Golden Bears would go to running back Marshawn Lynch, who had already logged a 56-yard run.

    Indeed, Lynch carried on the next two plays – getting stopped for a one-yard loss each time.

    Longshore threw to wide receiver Robert Jordan on third down, but linebacker Dane Krogstad rushed in to knock the ball away, setting up Tom Scheider’s 20-yard field goal.

    “”That’s why we go through two-a-days, that’s why we work out all summer – you never know when you’re going to have to reach down deep,”” said junior linebacker Spencer Larsen. “”That was a big stop right there.””

    Arizona prospered even without its two starting safeties. Junior Dominic Patrick dressed but not play after suffering a neck stinger last week at then-No. 25 Washington State, and senior Michael Johnson left the game in the second quarter after injuring his left hamstring on wideout DeSean Jackson’s 62-yard touchdown reception.

    Freshman Corey Hall recorded his first career interception in the first quarter in place of Patrick, and sophomore Michael Klyce finished with five tackles, tied for second on the team, in relief of Johnson.

    “”When your number’s called, you got to be ready,”” Klyce said. “”There’s no way to describe it. It’s a big win for our team.””

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