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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

2009 Oregon game marked high point for Arizona football

One game doesn’t define a season, let alone the future state of a program.

But Arizona football’s 44-41 double-overtime loss to Oregon on Nov. 21, 2009, at Arizona Stadium may be an exception.

Fresh off of their first bowl game since 1998, the Wildcats came into the matchup as a program on the rise, and despite a ho-hum 6-3 record so far that season, a victory over the No. 11 Ducks would have set the Wildcats up for their first Rose Bowl run.

If they could defeat Oregon and follow that with wins over then-struggling ASU and No. 18 USC, Arizona would no longer be the only team in its conference not to smell the roses.

With ESPN GameDay in town and a 31-24 lead late in the fourth quarter, Arizona’s chances looked promising.

With Arizona still leading by seven, students from the ZonaZoo spilled onto the field with less than a minute to play.

“Students are thinking this hay’s in the barn, this is over,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit during the live telecast.

It would turn out to be a jump of the gun, representative of how Arizona’s rise to elite status was premature as well.

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli picked up a crucial 4th-and-5 and eventually capped off an 80-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ed Dickson that took the game into overtime.

Behind Masoli’s arm and legs, Oregon outscored Arizona 13-10 in the two overtimes to shock the Wildcats, knocking them from Rose Bowl contention in a game head coach Mike Stoops calls “one of the great games in college football that year.”

“I just remember Jeremiah Masoli running around making plays,” Stoops said. “He just made some incredible plays down the stretch, and we just couldn’t come up with that last play to win the game in the fourth quarter.

“We were one play away and just couldn’t make it.”

While the victory sent the Ducks to the Rose Bowl and kick-started what is now one of the nation’s elite programs, it left the Wildcats searching for a spot on college football’s food chain.

They let their Rose Bowl chances slip away and are 10-9 with two embarrassing bowl losses since the nightmare of a meltdown. The Wildcats are certainly progressing as a program in terms of national notoriety and facilities, but they’re nowhere near as close to their Rose Bowl goals as they were that rainy Saturday night.

Oregon, on the other hand, has turned itself into an annual national contender since its win.

Sure, before that game, Oregon was a notoriously competitive football team. It made four consecutive bowl games from 2005-08 and produced NFL talent on a yearly basis. But the Ducks certainly weren’t one of college football’s top programs before leaving Arizona Stadium in 2009.

Since that comeback win, the Ducks are 15-3 with two bowl appearances — the Rose Bowl and the BCS National Championship. The majority of that success stems from Phil Knight’s wallet and Chip Kelly’s coaching prowess, but just think “what if?”

What if Arizona held on and ultimately advanced to the Rose Bowl? What if Masoli didn’t put the team on his back, and the Ducks, not the Wildcats, played in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska?

Arizona wouldn’t have left Qualcomm Stadium embarrassed and the program would be in a much different place than it is now. The Rose Bowl monkey would be off the Wildcats’ back and Oregon might not have been the No. 1 team in the country for the better part of 2010.

Saturday’s matchup at Arizona Stadium would hold far different implications. The Ducks would be seeking revenge while Arizona would be reminiscing about the game where the program turned the corner.

But Saturday, it’ll be Arizona looking for revenge.

“I feel like this is a good opportunity for us to redeem that one,” said coordinator of football operations Cam Newton, who was starting safety for UA in 2009.

If the Wildcats had made a couple more plays that Saturday night, the football scene in Tucson might be much, much different.

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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