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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Close, but not close enough”

Close games have been the death of the Arizona football team this season. The Wildcats’ three Pacific 10 Conference losses have been by three, eight, and three points, leaving the margin of defeat at a mere two touchdowns.

The first loss was on a fluky pass tipped off of a foot, the second one was on a chance pass tipped off of a defender, but the third one was the worst of them all: The Wildcats got beat, fair and square. In fact, I don’t think Arizona could have played a better game — especially on defense.

“”It’s such a heartbreaking loss, it’s difficult to swallow,”” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “”I’m proud of (the defense), they gave it everything they had. These guys prepared, they played hard, made some big stops. It’s killing me and it’s going to kill them because we had our chances at the end and just couldn’t get it done.””

Arizona, the underdog, started slowly but got going at the end of the first half and carried that momentum all the way to the fourth quarter. At that point, with a 24-14 lead, the Wildcats were in total control.

Then it fell apart. Except rather than fall victim to an unbelievable football phenomenon, the Wildcats fell victim to Jeremiah Masoli — perhaps college football’s most underrated playmaker.

“”We were draped all over Masoli, and the plays that he made in critical situations is remarkable,”” Stoops said.

I’ve never seen a single player make a bigger impact for his team than Masoli did on Saturday night — or this season for that matter. Masoli ran like a running back — he was nimble, fast, and extremely tough — and was spot-on with his passes, especially late in the fourth quarter and in both overtimes, when it counted.

Even when Oregon was struggling on offense in the third quarter, Arizona was walking on eggshells because Masoli is capable of breaking a big play at any moment.

Want a stat that will blow your mind? In the last six games Masoli played — he missed Oregon’s 24-10 win over UCLA with a knee injury — Oregon scored 42, 52, 43, 47, 42, and 44 points.

For the first 49 minutes, Arizona held Masoli and the Ducks to just 14 points, uncharted territory for Pac-10 defenses. But then Masoli spent the last 11 minutes and two overtimes carving Arizona’s once-perfect defense, leading his team to score 30 points in what seemed like a blink of an eye.

The sad thing is that Masoli’s surge seemed right. Nobody can realistically claim to be surprised that he and the Ducks pulled out a season-defining comeback.

That’s not a shot at Arizona in any way. The effort that the Wildcats put forward was admirable. They acted like they belonged in a game with Rose Bowl implications and they proved that for more than 60 minutes of football. And the coaching, especially on defense, was perfect. Mark and Mike Stoops had the best game plan of any Pac-10 team against Oregon this season.

But eventually Masoli figured it out and beat Arizona. For once, Arizona did not beat itself.

Saturday night’s game was an encapsulated version of the entire Pac-10 this season. It showed just how competitive the conference is ­— probably the best conference in the country.

It showed that this is Oregon’s year to go to the Rose Bowl and likely romp Ohio State.

And it showed that Arizona has officially arrived in the Pac-10, although it has to wait another year to contend for a spot in the Rose Bowl.

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