Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 37 days away. To go along with the countdown to kickoff, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Wildcat football history.
SCORE: Oregon Ducks 10, Arizona Wildcats 9
DATE: Oct. 29, 1994
SITE: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore., 36,760 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen, who is as knowledgeable as anyone about the history of Arizona football since the Wildcats joined the Pac-10 in 1978, summarized the magnitude of this game this way in 2009: “How can you tell the difference between a Big Game and a Really Big Game That’ll Still Make You Whine 50 Years From Now? You measure it by the hurt. The most hurtful words in UA football history arrived at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium on Oct. 29, 1994. Don Essig, the Ducks’ PA man said: ‘Please, fans, do not run onto the field at the conclusion of the game.'”
Hansen went on to write that the “Oregon victory put a haze over the entire Desert Swarm era.” The Wildcats — predicted by Sports Illustrated before the season to win the national title — were ranked No. 11 in the country 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Pac-10. Oregon was 5-3 and 3-1. With a victory, the Wildcats would have been in prime position to earn their first Rose Bowl berth. The Ducks, however, held Arizona without a touchdown, and steamrolled their way to the Rose Bowl by winning their last six Pac-10 games.
This game would have a higher ranking on this list but Arizona also lost at USC two weeks later and finished the season losing three of its last five games. The Wildcats ended the season with a forgettable loss to Utah in the Freedom Bowl.
From the Press Box — Jay Gonzales
“This is one of those forgotten games where a simple twist of fate cost Arizona a Rose Bowl. People remember the 1993 season where a loss at Cal, after leading 20-0 at halftime, cost Arizona and Dick Tomey a shot at a Rose Bowl. The very next year, in this game, a controversial pass interference call on Arizona did the same level of damage. Arizona was this close to going to two straight Rose Bowls, and instead they didn’t get there either time. This game was the definition of what it’s been like to be a Wildcat fan in the Pac-10/Pac-12 years. So close but so far.”
Oregon’s Danny O’Neil threw 15 yards to tight end Josh Wilcox for the game’s only touchdown early in the fourth quarter in the comeback win. The Ducks made history instead of the Wildcats, earning their first 4-1 start in conference play since 1970.
The Wildcats led 9-0 at halftime on three Steve McLaughlin field goals. It was a defensive battle throughout with Oregon’s “Gang Green” matching the “Desert Swarm” every possession. The play of the game was a pass interference call against the UA’s Mike Scurlock on a fourth-and-5 at the Arizona 27 that helped set up O’Neil’s touchdown pass to Wilcox a play later with 12:17 left in the game.
It took the Wildcats about three years to recover from that Oregon loss and demoralizing finish to the 1994 season. They had a 20-18 record over that span before finishing 12-1 in 1998.
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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.