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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Win brightens football’s outlook

An unfamiliar aura filled the press room after Arizona football’s 43-38 win over Stanford on Saturday.

Head coach Mike Stoops — normally stoic and business-like following games, win or lose — strolled into the room with a grin on his face as he took his seat in front of the microphone with the Arizona backdrop behind him.

As he began detailing the game from his view, he seemed relieved and elated. The reporters’ questions were more casual and Stoops’ responses more light-hearted than usual.

After the head coach finished, defensive and offensive coordinators Mark Stoops and Sonny Dykes, respectively, entered and spoke with similar tones. Mark Stoops got the reporters laughing at one point after telling them he gave all the offensive players and coaches a kiss for bailing out his defense that allowed 584 yards of offense from the Cardinal.

The unusual mood gave insight into just how significant Saturday’s win was for the Wildcats.

After a heartbreaking defeat against Washington a week ago, on top of what Mike Stoops described as a “”poor week of practice,”” Arizona’s confidence was not very high — and it showed, especially defensively, through three quarters of Saturday’s game. Without something to resurrect the Wildcats’ broken spirits, the pieces would have simply blown away.

Throughout the first half, the Stanford quarterback, freshman Andrew Luck, thrashed Arizona’s secondary and threw for 231 yards and three touchdowns.

Arizona’s offense struggled to keep up the pace, and the Wildcats found themselves down by 15 late in the second quarter.

In the second half, Arizona’s defensive issues continued as Luck appeared to always have a receiver down the field who the Wildcats’ secondary missed covering. The result: Arizona down 38-29 with 15 minutes to play — on the verge, once again, of suffering an unexpected defeat.

“”Our corners were discouraged,”” Mark Stoops said. “”I kept telling them finish, just finish. I wasn’t very proud of the way we played (Saturday) for the majority of that game.””

But something changed in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the very real possibility of suffering a devastating, second-straight conference loss — at home, no less — finally sunk in for the Arizona defense. Whatever it was, Mark Stoops’ defense finally began making stops and kept the Cardinal off the board on four straight possessions in the fourth quarter.

Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and his offense could now gain steady ground on Stanford for the first time since the first quarter.

With three minutes left, the comeback became complete as running back Nic Grigsby sprinted 57 yards for the go-ahead score. Those loyal enough to have remained in their seats at Arizona Stadium erupted in cheers, and for the first time all night, confidence was apparent throughout the entire Arizona sideline.

After cornerback Trevin Wade knocked away Luck’s final end zone attempt, the smile Mike Stoops brought to his postgame press conference made its first appearance, and like all the other players and coaches on the Wildcats’ sideline, the grin never subsided.

The Arizona players exited the field knowing their sub-par play nearly earned them a defeat that would have torn their already-meager confidence to shreds. But instead, they proved to themselves how tough they are and found a way to regain the composure they lost last weekend at Washington. Then, they put together a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback to salvage a season that could have easily spiraled out of control.

“”We knew we had to step up,”” Grigsby said after the game. “”We don’t lose at home.””

The Wildcats played mediocre football for 45 minutes Saturday night, but the effort in the final 15 saved their season.

— Bobby Stover is a materials science and engineering senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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