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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Arizona seeks 3rd straight upset Oregon

    Avoid a letdown.

    After consecutive wins over top-25 teams for the first time since 1992, including last week’s 24-20 upset of then-No. 8 California on Homecoming, it’s the one thing Arizona (5-5, 3-4 Pacific 10 Conference) is focused on more than anything else for tomorrow’s 1:30 p.m. kickoff in Eugene, Ore., against the Ducks (7-3, 4-3).

    “”We’ve just got to keep it up, we can’t let down by any means,”” said running back Chris Henry, whose four touchdowns in the past two games have had a major hand in the wins. “”We cannot let down. We have to take no prisoners.””

    Following last season’s 52-14 Homecoming upset of then-No. 7 UCLA, the Wildcats found themselves on the wrong end of a 38-14 loss to a Washington squad that had previously been 0-6 in the conference.

    “”Last year, the UCLA game, I think it was so random. No one saw it coming,”” linebacker Spencer Larsen said. “”And it was such a blowout that we just swelled up, like ‘Oh, we’ve arrived.'””

    “”You have to keep working, and you’re never ‘there,'”” Larsen added. “”Even the best teams in the country – (No. 1) Ohio State’s still not ‘there.’ You’re never going to be ‘there’ until you’re undefeated and you win the national championship.””

    With the team one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 1998 – Arizona went 6-6 in 1999, but a winning record was also a requirement; that rule has since been abandoned – Larsen and his teammates say they have something pushing them this time around.

    Whereas last year’s three-win Wildcats had no way of reaching the postseason, this time, they have something to play for.

    “”Everyone’s working toward a tangible goal now,”” Larsen said. “”We’re close. We’re late in the season, and we’re still close.””

    Added Henry: “”We can see it, we can feel it, we can taste it. It’s definitely a totally different feeling.””

    Coming off a 17-10 loss to Oregon State Oct. 21, Arizona looked to be headed for a third straight three-win season under head coach Mike Stoops. But the offense – especially the running game – finally started holding up its end of the bargain.

    “”We’re starting to look like a real offensive line,”” center Blake Kerley said. “”The last two weeks, we get inside the 5(-yard line), and they stack the box, and we still punch it in. That’s what we’re supposed to do.””

    Since quarterback Willie Tuitama returned against Washington State two weeks ago, Arizona has averaged 268.5 yards of total offense. The Wildcats had reached that mark just three times before in the season.

    “”They certainly got our attention,”” said Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti. “”They had it already because we know they play great defense, but they’ve seemingly found their stride offensively.””

    Added Stoops: “”Now we’re getting some points on the board. It makes a big difference in winning and losing.””

    All season, Wildcat coaches and players had pointed out how “”close”” Arizona was to turning the corner. Each game, a play here and a play there proved to be the team’s Achilles’ heel.

    Down 13-3 in the fourth quarter at home against USC on Sept. 23 with plenty of time left, wideout Mike Thomas fumbled a punt that gave the Trojans the ball inside the 10, and an easy 9-yard score a play later that sealed the game.

    A month later, during Oct. 21’s loss to Oregon State, Larsen had a chance to scoop up a fumble and take it back the other way. The play would’ve given the Wildcats a lead and might’ve changed the outcome, but Larsen tripped at the 41-yard line with no one in front of him and Arizona punted four plays later.

    “”It’s sickening just to see how close we were all these games,”” Larsen said.

    So last Saturday, Arizona finally did something about it. The defense had three interceptions, including cornerback Antoine Cason’s 39-yard return that went for a score and linebacker Ronnie Palmer’s game-sealing pick on Arizona’s 18-yard line.

    “”We’ve been real close, and we’ve just always been saying that,”” Cason said. “”It was just time to get over that period where we kept saying ‘We’re so close, we’re so close.’ We just had to do it.

    “”And last week, we did it.””

    Trio honored for studies

    Three Wildcats were named to the Pacific 10 Conference’s first-team All-Academic team yesterday.

    Linebacker Spencer Larsen, kicker Nick Folk and guard Daniel Borg became the first trio of first-team Wildcats honored since 2001.

    “”I put a lot of pride in what I do in the classroom,”” Borg said. “”That’s why I’m here, to get an education. That’s something I really value.””

    Junior offensive tackle Pete Graniello received an honorable mention.

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