Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 23 days away. To go along with the countdown to kickoff, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Wildcat football history.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 24, ASU Sun Devils 24
DATE: Nov. 28, 1987
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, 70,839
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Arizona had three ties in 1987, including this zany outcome in Dick Tomey’s first season with the Wildcats in which the Wildcats were 4-4-3. The program had 33 ties overall before the NCAA instituted overtime in 1996. Some of Arizona’s most memorable games were ties, including this game, the 33-33 outcome with Cal in 1983, the 13-13 game with Georgia in the 1985 Sun Bowl and 14-14 sister-kisser at Nebraska in 1961.
As the accompanying YouTube video (2:25 mark) suggests, all ASU had to do was punt the ball late in the game and the Sun Devils most likely would have won. But the craziest thing happened. ASU punter Mike Schuh fumbled the snap and then was flagged for an illegal kick (trying to kick the ball on the ground) and All-American safety Chuck Cecil recovered.
The NCAA rule back then was a fumbled snap on a punt could not be recovered and advanced. If today’s rule was enforced, Cecil could have returned Schuh’s fumble for a touchdown and the Wildcats likely would have won.
From the Press Box — Dave Petruska, former Tucson Citizen beat reporter
“This was such an amazing finish. I was on the sidelines, parallel to ASU punter Mike Schuh, when he dropped the snap. The snap was perfect. He simply dropped it. I believe that was the only snap Schuh dropped in his ASU career. Then UA kicked the field goal to tie the game and kept the unbeaten string alive. UA really had no chance to score a TD at the end because QB Ronald Veal hurt his shoulder.”
The ball was placed at the ASU 13 on the penalty and Gary Coston nailed a 30-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game for Arizona. The Cats celebrated on the Sun Devil Stadium turf as if they were victorious. The outcome ended the UA’s winning run in “The Streak” but the Wildcats remained undefeated in the historic 1982-1990 stretch against their arch-rivals.
“A tie is like kissing your sister only if she’s good-looking,” ASU coach John Cooper told the media. “They might be celebrating in the other locker room, but I can tell you our players are taking it as a heartbreaking loss.
“It’s hard to take because we thought we had it won. But the lesson we learned is the game’s not over until it’s over.”
From the Press Box — Brad Allis, longtime Tucson sports journalist and radio personality
“What I will remember most about the tie against ASU is just how nervous Ronnie Veal looked. Arizona gets the ball from the botched punt attempt, but had to go to the air to try to get the win. Obviously in the days of the triple-option that was not a strength. I remember after an incomplete pass my mom pointed to Veal on the screen as he looked to the sideline. ‘He looks so nervous,’ my mom noted. Pointing out how wide-eyed he looked behind his face mask. I was angry when they settled for the field goal, but my mom talked me off the ledge by explaining if Veal, who was a true freshman, was nervous it was better to play for the tie, than risk losing the game. I am sure Coach Tomey wholeheartedly agreed with Bettye Allis that day.”
The Sun Devils took a 24-21 lead on Alan Zendejas’ 40-yard field goal with 2:45 remaining. ASU cornerback Eric Allen appeared to seal the victory with an interception at the Sun Devil 30 with 1:21 left. But Schuh, a junior who handled 161 previous snaps without a fumble in his career, dropped this one with 13 seconds left and Cecil recovered at the Sun Devil 25-yard line.
The ball was moved half the distance to the goal on the penalty in which Schuh unsuccessfully tried to kick the ball forward while it was on the ground during the bizarre play. Coston made his field goal two plays later before a stunned, standing-room-only crowd of 70,839 at Sun Devil Stadium and a national television audience.
From the Press Box — Jay Gonzales, former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter
“For this game, I was covering the UA basketball team at the Great Alaska Shootout. I believe it was on the day of the finals between Arizona and Syracuse. At the arena, two televisions were on in the media room, one had one of the other big rivalry games and the other had the Arizona-ASU game. There was a crowd around the other TV. I can’t remember which game was on. But I do know I was the only one watching Arizona-ASU. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when ASU fumbled the punt snap ultimately allowing Arizona to tie the game. I think my reaction to the fumble made people curious and by the time the game was over, the crowd was around my television watching in disbelief. Even though this game was a tie, ask any UA or ASU football fan and they will tell you Arizona won that game.”
ASU, the defending Pac-10 champs that season, finished the regular season 6-4-1 overall. Arizona’s 4-4-3 record helped it avoid the school’s first losing season since 1980, when the Wildcats went 5-6.
“I don’t like ties, but we’ll take this one. It’s a moral victory if nothing else,” Tomey said afterward. “This is our third tie this year and I wish we could play them all off. But this tie is the best of them.”
It was the first tie in the Arizona-ASU series, which started in 1899. It also was the fifth time in the last 10 meetings that a field goal in the last minute decided the rivalry game.
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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.