The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 25 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.
As part of the 100 Days ‘Til Kickoff 2013 series, this site will rank the top five games for Arizona against each of their Pac-12 rivals. This installment includes the Wildcats’ best encounters with Utah. Series record: Utah leads 19-16-2 but 11 of those wins by the Utes occurred through 1960, before the UA competed against the Utes in the WAC. The teams meet in Tucson on Oct. 19. Utah is 9-8-2 at Arizona Stadium.
5. Arizona 16, Utah 15, Rice Stadium (Salt Lake City), Nov. 16, 1968
The UA, 8-3 and Sun Bowl participants that season, trailed Utah 15-0 entering the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Bruce Lee (not the famed martial-arts actor) threw two touchdown passes and sophomore place-kicker Steve Hurley made a 27-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to give the UA the win.
Tucson Daily Citizen sports reporter Dave Spriggs wrote this account: “With approximately four minutes remaining, a group of children put the finishing touches on a ‘Go Utah’ message written in the snow at the south end of the stadium. At about the same time Arizona’s Frank Jenkins, suffering from numbness in his legs, brought on from standing in ankle deep slush on the sidelines, separated Utah’s Ray Groth from the football and Tom Cooley recovered for the Cats.”
Jenkins recovered the fumble, setting up one of Lee’s touchdowns.
4. Arizona 17, Utah 16, Arizona Stadium, Nov. 15, 1969
The Wildcats snapped Utah’s seven-game WAC winning streak in the upset victory played during a snowstorm — that’s right, snowstorm — in Tucson. Utah had a WAC title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl in its sights. The win improved UA’s record to 2-6.
The Redskins, as Utah was called then, dominated the statistics, outgaining Arizona by more than 100 yards and getting 24 first downs to UA’s 12. However, the Utes couldn’t find the end zone and lost on a 21-yard field goal by Steve Hurley with 21 seconds remaining.
Arizona’s defense, which got two interceptions and two fumbles, kept Utah’s offense in check.
3. Utah 16, Arizona 13, Freedom Bowl (Anaheim, Calif.), Dec. 27, 1994
Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense was led by All-American defensive end Tedy Bruschi; Utah’s defense was led by All-American defensive tackle Luther Ellis.
Utah managed only 75 yards total offense and five first downs. When Utah needed it the most, its offense came through. After Cal Beck returned a kickoff 72 yards to the Arizona 5-yard line, the Ute offense stalled for three downs. On fourth-and-goal and only 3:34 left in the game, QB Mike McCoy tossed up a desperation pass to freshman Kevin Dyson in the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
The Wildcats had two chances to score a touchdown and did not convert on both. Tight end Tim Thomas and receiver Lamar Lovett each dropped a pass in the end zone.
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2. Arizona 38, Utah 35, Rice Stadium (Salt Lake City), October 30, 1976
Arizona’s Lee Pistor kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal with 10 seconds left despite a snap that rolled on the ground to holder Scott Baker.
The Wildcats rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter behind three touchdown passes thrown by Marc Lunsford. Keith Hartwig caught two of those touchdown pass.
The go-ahead drive consisted of a 38-yard pass by Lunsford to Hartwig. On the play, Utah was assessed with a personal foul penalty that moved the ball to the Utes’ 24, setting the stage for Pistor.
1. Utah 28, Arizona 27, Rice Stadium (Salt Lake City), Nov. 30, 1974
The Wildcats led 27-0 after the start of the fourth quarter and they appeared headed to a 4-0 record in the WAC 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.
“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.
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The best Arizona player to wear No. 25, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is running back Vance Johnson (1981-84). The Cholla High School grad was an All-Pac-10 running back who gained greater fame as part of Denver Broncos’ “Three Amigos” receiving corps with John Elway at quarterback.
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Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.
No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma
No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch
No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU
No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats
No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era
No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series
No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl
No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run
No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts
No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight
No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game
No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU
No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson
No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list
No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA
No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns
No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time
No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU
No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA
No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics
No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally
No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason
No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish
No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech
No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State
No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal
Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians
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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.