In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 23 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 23 days away.
SCORE: Utah Utes 28, Arizona Wildcats 27
DATE: Nov. 30, 1974
SITE: Rice Stadium in Salt Lake City, 19,238 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: (Note — The following is mostly a reprint from a 2010 blog I wrote for TucsonCitizen.com after Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12) Those old enough to remember the “Snafu of ’72″ know how much of an impact the loss at Utah had on the Arizona football program historically.
The Wildcats led 27-0 after the start of the fourth quarter and they appeared headed to a 4-0 record in the Western Athletic Conference and probable appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. Embattled coach Bob Weber looked as though he could breath easier after suffering through three consecutive losing seasons to start his UA career. The Cats were turning the corner — or so it seemed before they hit a dead end.
The Utes made an improbable comeback, scoring the go-ahead touchdown and extra point with 10 seconds remaining to defeat the shell-shocked Cats.
It stands as the greatest comeback by a UA opponent in the football program’s history.
“It’s something you can’t just forget for the rest of your life,” Weber told the Tucson Daily Citizen after the game.
Few defeats in Arizona’s history are more humbling or demoralizing than the setback to Utah in 1972.
UA president John Schaefer and athletic director Dave Strack were reportedly “giving out the ‘all right’ and ‘way to go’ with all the fervor of freshmen,” the Tucson Daily Citizen reported when the UA took a 27-0 lead into the fourth quarter. When the gun sounded and what was left of the 19,236 in attendance celebrated on the Utah side, Schaefer and Strack were immersed in a coaching-change controversy.
Had Arizona held on to beat the Utes — the Cats still led 27-14 with 4:30 remaining with possession at the Utah 36 — Weber would have likely kept his job because the Wildcats would have remained unbeaten in the WAC with three straight home games against BYU, Wyoming and ASU to end the regular season.
Although the Utes had no timeouts left and the Cats faced a second-and-14, UA senior quarterback Bill Demory committed the snafu, by calling an audible for a pass instead of sticking to a fullback plunge to eat more clock. Demory’s pass was intercepted by a Utah defender, who returned it 68 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-21 with 4:19 to play.
After forcing the UA to punt with 2:20 left, the Utes drove 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown and extra point with 10 seconds left. Weber’s team was whistled for 16 penalties compared to four against the hometown Utes, but that was no excuse. Making matters worse for Schaefer and Strack: Former UA coach Jim LaRue, who was fired in 1966 after consecutive three-win seasons, was Utah’s defensive coordinator. After the collapse, Arizona lost two of its last three games to finish 4-7 and Weber was let go.
Jim Young, a promising Bo Schembechler assistant at Michigan, was hired and he immediately coached Arizona (with many Weber holdovers) to three consecutive records of 8-3, 9-2 and 9-2 from 1973-75. Because of this run, the UA believed it could competitively make the jump to the Pac-8. The Young era, which probably would not have happened if Arizona beat Utah in 1972, was crucial to Arizona advancing its athletic program beyond the WAC at that time.
Young left to Purdue after the 1976 season. The following year, Arizona accepted a move to the Pac-8 and the Wildcats competed in the Pac-10 starting in 1978.
In hindsight, was the record comeback by Utah in 1972 beneficial or detrimental to the development of the Wildcat program? Weber, bless his soul, tried all he could to get Arizona to the 1972 Fiesta Bowl. Many of the players he recruited helped Young be successful and direct the UA toward the Pac-10.
The turn of events in that landmark 1972 game ironically gave the Cats the momentum they may have needed for greener pastures. Weber knew all about the ramifications of momentum.
“I don’t want to bore you guys with the word, but ‘Momentum’ is a word that I’ve learned to really spell,” Weber told reporters a day after the collapse against Utah.
No. 24 — UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 25 — Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma (WildAboutAZCats.com)
No. 26 — UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 27 — Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 28 — UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 29 — Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 30 — Arizona win on last-second FG over ASU ends Kush dominance in series (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 31 — Arizona reaches its zenith under Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 32 — Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 33 — Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 34 — ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 35 — Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 36 — Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (TucsonCitizen.com)