Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 40 days away. To go along with the countdown to kickoff, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Wildcat football history.
SCORE: California 56, Arizona 55, 4 OTs
DATE: Nov. 2, 1996
SITE: Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., 35,000 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: In the first year of overtimes in college football, Arizona and Cal took it to the extreme.
Arizona quarterback Keith Smith completed five touchdown passes and ran for two more but it was not enough in what was the longest game in major college football history at that point. In a risky move that resulted in the loss for Arizona, coach Dick Tomey elected to go for the victory rather than send the game into a fifth overtime after the Wildcats scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 56-55.
Arizona lined up for the extra point, but holder Ryan Hesson took the snap and flipped it over his head to kicker Matt Peyton, who was tackled immediately by a Cal defender to end the game.
The more apt wording is perhaps “wildest” college football game ever played. Arizona’s failed fake point-after-attempt adds to the craziness. Tomey later was one of the coaches who called for the rule mandating automatic two-point tries in third overtimes and beyond, which was passed by the rules committee. Cal played in the previous longest game in college football history earlier that season in a triple-overtime 48-42 victory over Oregon State.
Smith threw for 418 yards while Cal quarterback Pat Barnes threw for eight touchdowns and 503 yards, both school records. Jeremy McDaniel, who entered the game with 119 yards in receptions, set school records with 14 catches for 283 yards.
“Even though this is a devastating feeling, someday someone will say that’s the greatest college football game ever played. I guess it’s better than both teams walking off the field talking to themselves (after a tie).”
— Dick Tomey, Arizona coach
“It took guts,” Smith told reporters about Tomey’s risky decision to go for the win. “We make the play, and we all go crazy.”
Arizona did not recover afterward, losing two of its last three games — including a 56-14 defeat against ASU in Tucson — to finish 5-6. Cal apparently ran out of gas after the 3-hour and 56-minute game with Arizona. The Golden Bears lost their last four games after playing the Wildcats. They allowed an average of 39.9 points in those four games.
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.