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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats stay close but Trojans prevail

    It came like Arizona’s chances to win the game, long and wobbling. Then, it slipped right through the Wildcats’ hands.

    Down 13-3 with just over three minutes to play, USC’s Greg Woidneck’s punt would’ve given Arizona the ball back and a chance to close the gap, but wideout Mike Thomas fumbled his first career attempt at a punt return.

    USC’s Dallas Sartz jumped on the loose ball at Arizona’s 9-yard line, and Trojan running back Emmanuel Moody, who finished with 130 yards, scored a play later to seal a 20-3 victory for No. 3 USC (3-0, 1-0 Pacific 10 Conference) over the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) in front of 58,801 fans at Arizona Stadium, the fourth-largest crowd in Arizona history.

    “”That’s a learning curve for me. I should have let that one go,”” said Thomas, who was handling the duties because Arizona’s usual returner, Syndric Steptoe, had injured his thigh earlier in the game. “”It was a high kick, wobbling, and it kind of died on me at the end, but (Steptoe) and some other guys were like, ‘You’ve got to learn from that.'””

    Clinging to a 10-3 lead early in the fourth quarter, USC scored 10 unanswered points to close the game and put any hopes at a monumental Wildcat upset to rest.

    “”We almost did it,”” said running back Chris Jennings, who finished the game with 23 yards on nine attempts.

    Added Steptoe: “”We were right there with the No. 3 team in the nation.””

    And it was thanks to stellar play on the defensive side of the ball, which held the Trojans to season lows in points (20), first downs (22), yards passing (179) and total yards (381).

    But the play of the defense, which also forced two turnovers, wasn’t enough for Arizona to pull through. Penalties and turnovers in crucial situations killed any momentum the offense had built, stalling drives all night long.

    “”I thought we had some chances, offensively, to score some points in some good situations, and we just couldn’t get the ball in the end zone or couldn’t get it deep in the red zone,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”(We) really kinda hung on all day and tried to put ourselves in position to make it really close but just couldn’t come up with the one or two big plays.””

    After a low-scoring first half that saw the Arizona defense allow only Mario Danelo’s 35-yard field goal in the second quarter, USC marched 80 yards down the field in 10 plays on the opening drive of the second half to take a 10-0 lead.

    Quarterback John David Booty’s 3-yard strike to wideout Dwayne Jarrett in the right side of the end zone came just two plays after a Booty-to-Steve Smith touchdown was reversed, after it was ruled that Smith did not have control of the ball as he fell out of bounds.

    Booty finished the game with 179 yards on 24-of-39 passing with a pick and the score.

    Arizona cut the Trojan lead to seven, at 10-3, early in the fourth quarter behind Nick Folk’s 43-yard field goal, but those were the only points the Wildcats would score all night.

    The offense squandered opportunities to stay in the game early and often, going 2-of-12 on third down, and finishing the game with negative rushing yards (minus-16) – thanks, in large part, to five sacks – for the first time since a 2002 win over California.

    “”We played pretty good defense, we just didn’t play good enough offensively,”” Stoops said of his offense, which mustered only 154 total yards. “”To beat USC, you can’t come up short.””

    After a scoreless first quarter, cornerback Antoine Cason’s second interception of the season – the ninth of his career – set up a 46-yard attempt for kicker Nick Folk, but the kick, which would have given Arizona the lead at 3-0, was blocked by USC’s Lawrence Jackson.

    After Danelo’s field goal on the ensuing drive, Arizona failed to respond, with quarterback Willie Tuitama’s pass gliding off Thomas’ fingertips and into the hands of USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. Even though Arizona’s Spencer Larsen forced a fumble two plays later, the Arizona offense couldn’t muster anything once again, going three-and-out.

    Then in the fourth quarter, down 10-0, the Wildcats drove down to the USC 25-yard line but lost 18 yards in two plays (including a false-start penalty on second down), that forced Arizona to settle for Folk’s 43-yard boot.

    On Arizona’s next drive, Tuitama led his troops down to the Trojan 39-yard line, but a dead-ball personal foul penalty and a sack a play later forced yet another Folk punt.

    “”Those are little things that we have to eliminate. We can’t have any false starts and all that,”” said Tuitama, who finished 14-of-23 for 170 yards and the pick. “”Otherwise, I think we would’ve had two touchdowns.””

    Late hits

    Backup quarterback Adam Austin came in on Arizona’s final drive after Tuitama twisted his ankle on the previous drive, going 0-of-2. Said Tuitama: “”I’m fine.”” … Steptoe made it 21 straight games with a catch on a 25-yard reception in the first quarter. … Thomas’ seven catches for 78 yards were season highs. … USC has now scored at least 20 points in 55 straight games.

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