‘Cats steal win from Devils


Alan Walsh

Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Brian Kimball

TEMPE — A sloppy game through three quarters turned into a thriller before an odd play late in the game went — seemingly for the first time this season — in the Wildcats’ favor as Arizona escaped from Sun Devil Stadium with a 20-17 win.


“”I think you’ve got to believe the situations even out through life and through football. It’s got to, it doesn’t make any other sense,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”It’s a very fine line between winning and losing for teams like us that have to work extremely hard, do things right and execute. It’s tough. I can’t explain how difficult it really is.””


Arizona (7-4, 5-3 Pacific 10 Conference) couldn’t get into a rhythm on offense for most of the game and only managed 10 points of its own, with the lone touchdown being a 67-yard run by Keola Antolin late in the first quarter. But the Wildcats’ special teams unit made big plays that proved to be the deciding factor in the Duel in the Desert.


Sophomore linebacker Orlando Vargas gave Arizona a boost late in the second quarter as he blocked an ASU punt, scooped it up and ran 23 yards to give the Wildcats a 14-0 advantage at the half.


“”I just crossed in front of his face and put both my hands out and blocked it. I was surprised,”” Vargas said. “”I saw it rolling and I was like ‘I can pick this up’ so I just grabbed it and just ran for a touchdown.””


Arizona seemed to have the game well in hand heading into the fourth quarter, but ASU senior wide receiver Kyle Williams almost willed the Sun Devils into overtime. Williams had a 53-yard punt return that set up a field goal midway through the third quarter but his two touchdown-grabs were even bigger. Williams’ first score was a 44-yard catch and run early in the final stanza, but he made a spectacular diving grab for a 14-yard score with 2:02 left in the game to knot the score at 17.


Arizona couldn’t move the ball and was forced to punt, but again the Wildcats’ special teams came up big in the clutch.


“”It’s always nice (getting freak plays). There’s always something crazy about this game ever since I’ve been involved with it,”” said special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt, a former UA player. “”Fortunately for us, we got a few of those crazy plays go our way. It’s always nice to have the ball bounce your way.””


Williams was looking to break a big return to set up a potential game-winning score for ASU but didn’t catch the ball cleanly. Arizona cornerback Mike Turner scooped up the muffed punt at the 22-yard line with 1:03 left in the game and ran into the end zone. But because no defensive player can advance a muffed punt, the Wildcats’ got possession at the 22-yard line with ASU out of timeouts.


After three running plays, the outcome of the game would be determined by a 32-yard field goal by Alex Zendejas. Zendejas — who missed a 30-yard try earlier in the game — wasn’t bothered by the spitting rain or the magnitude of the situation. He drilled the game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Wildcats their second consecutive win against ASU, keeping the Territorial Cup in Tucson.


“”I’ve been anxious to get into the position the whole year,”” Zendejas said. “”We were close a couple of times, and it felt good to have that chance in front of my home town.””