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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    6 plays that could have meant bowl

    No stranger to close losses, the Arizona football team was quite literally a few plays away from spending its holiday break away from Tucson. Here are six plays that could’ve made a difference:

    What happened: Then-No. 18 Oregon upsets then-No. 15 Oklahoma, 34-33, Sept. 16 behind a handful of questionable calls, including a missed penalty on an onside kick that gives the Ducks the ball for their eventual game-winning drive. The Pacific 10 Conference later apologizes to the Sooners, saying both the onsides kick non-penalty and a pass interference call that was flagged later on the drive were incorrect.

    What could’ve happened: The refs get the onside kick call right, Oklahoma takes over possession, runs out the clock and beats Oregon. The Ducks finish the season 6-6 (4-5 in conference), 7-5 ASU goes to the Las Vegas Bowl, 7-5 UCLA stays in the San Francisco Bowl and 6-6 Arizona heads to the Hawaii Bowl.


    What happened: Trailing 13-3 with 3.5 minutes to play Sept. 23, Arizona forces then-No. 3 USC to punt. With an injury keeping usual returner Syndric Steptoe on the sideline, wideout Mike Thomas is forced to field his first career punt. Trojan punter Greg Woidneck gets the ball away cleanly, but Thomas fumbles at his team’s 9-yard-line. USC recovers and scores a play later, sealing a 20-3 win.

    What could’ve happened: Thomas lets the ball bounce into the end zone, Arizona quarterback Adam Austin – playing for starter Willie Tuitama, who injured his ankle a series earlier – leads the team on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that spans less than 2 minutes, sealed by a 35-yard strike to Thomas. Arizona recovers an onside kick at its own 48-yard line and drives to USC’s 35, setting up Nick Folk’s game-tying 52-yard kick. Arizona goes on to win in overtime, finishes the season 7-5 and gets the nod to go to San Francisco over UCLA.


    What happened: With nightmares of last season’s 38-14 loss still fresh in their mind, the Wildcats quickly find themselves in a 14-3 hole against Washington Sept. 30. And it gets worse. After forcing Folk’s sixth punt to that point, Husky quarterback Isaiah Stanback hits wideout Sonny Shackelford for a 25-yard gain to the Washington 45. A play later, UA cornerback Antoine Cason slips, leaving receiver Quentin Daniels wide open down the right sideline for a 21-3 lead heading into the half. Arizona cuts the lead to 21-10 in the third quarter, but eventually falls by that score.

    What could’ve happened: Cason doesn’t slip, Washington doesn’t score and the Huskies lead only 14-3 at the half. After Arizona’s third-quarter score cuts the lead to four at 14-10, the Wildcats punch it in again a drive later for a 17-14 lead. The defense does the rest, and a 7-5 Arizona team heads to the Emerald Bowl.


    What happened: Playing for an injured Tuitama, who suffered his second concussion of the season earlier in the game, Austin leads Arizona down to UCLA’s 16-yard line in Pasadena, Calif., Oct. 7. Trailing 20-7 with 4:33 to play, Austin passes short, but Bruin cornerback Alterraun Verner steps in front of it at the 11 and takes it back 89 yards the other way, capping the 27-7 win.

    What could’ve happened: Austin instead finds wideout Syndric Steptoe on a bubble screen toward the right sideline, and Steptoe goes the remaining 16 yards on his ninth catch of the game to cut the lead to 20-14. The Arizona defense forces a three-and-out, and the offense gets the ball back at its own 40-yard line with three minutes to spare. Ten plays and 56 yards later, Austin is barking the snap count with 24 seconds to play from inside the 5. He looks right, fakes the screen to Steptoe, and gives the ball to H-back Earl Mitchell, who rumbles four yards into paydirt for a 21-20 win. Hello San Francisco.


    What happened: With Tuitama and Austin both sidelined with injuries, former starter Kris Heavner, now Arizona’s third-string quarterback, finds himself under center. And with essentially zero reps to date, he still manages to have his team within a touchdown, 17-10, with the ball against Oregon State Oct. 21. But facing first-and-10 from the Beavers’ 28, Heavner is sacked by OSU linebacker Alan Darlin back to the OSU 40. Heavner’s last-second Hail Mary is intercepted two plays later, and Oregon State wins. The following week, OSU upsets then-No. 3 USC.

    What could’ve happened: Heavner throws the ball away instead of getting sacked, and Arizona converts on second-and-10 a play later to running back Chris Henry, who is already well on his way to a career day in receiving. Now inside the 10, Heavner finds Henry once more for the game-tying score. Arizona wins in overtime; the Wildcats head to El Paso, Las Vegas or San Francisco.


    What happened: Sitting at 6-5 and on the verge of heading to the postseason for the first time since 1998, all Arizona needs to do is beat ASU. But the Wildcats quickly find themselves down 21-0 before battling back to cut the deficit to seven at 21-14 just before the half. Behind the arm of Austin, who is playing for a concussed Tuitama for the third time this season, Arizona has first-and-10 from its 41-yard line on the opening drive of the third quarter. But the Wildcats are flagged for holding on first down, and then Austin is sacked and intercepted on consecutive plays. ASU adds a touchdown and goes on to win 28-14.

    What could’ve happened: Arizona isn’t flagged for holding, Austin continues to find his wideouts on the drive and the Wildcats eventually find the end zone on a 2-yard dive from Henry. Then in the fourth quarter, Arizona takes the lead after cornerback Wilrey Fontenot picks off a Rudy Carpenter pass and returns it 58 yards the other way. Arizona wins, 28-21, and heads to San Francisco. ASU stays home.

    Ryan Casey is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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