Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 17 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 6, No. 6 Oklahoma 3
DATE: Sept. 16, 1989
SITE: Arizona Stadium, 50,931 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Oklahoma came to town ranked No. 6 in the nation after outscoring New Mexico State and Baylor by a combined 106-10 in its first two games. The Sooners also arrived with baggage figuratively as they were banned by the NCAA from post-season games following the 1989 and 1990 seasons, with no live telecasts of games during that season, because of recruiting violations under Barry Switzer. Gary Gibbs was in his first year after replacing Switzer, who resigned amid turmoil following the 1988 season.
The Wildcats, who lost at Oklahoma 28-10 the previous year, were primed for an upset. They were motivated trying to atone for the 1988 loss in which they trailed the fourth-ranked Sooners in Norman 14-10 late in the third quarter. Furthermore, the game-time temperature was 101 degrees (the hottest on record for a game at Arizona Stadium).
Doug Pfaff kicked a 40-yard field goal with two seconds remaining as unranked Arizona shocked Oklahoma.
From the Press Box — Steve Rivera, AllSportsTucson.com writer and longtime Tucson sports journalist
“My lasting memory was more than football. But first, I remember Dick Tomey talking about visualization and if you see it and believe it, it will happen. Doug Pfaff talked about it, too. He visualized his field goal going through the upright for the win and it happened. I think the Citizen headline was “Sooner rather than later”. It was a Dave Petruska headline. Still, more importantly to me, the game marked the final big game my father and I attended. He was visiting me from Santa Fe. Six months later he passed from a heart attack. He had just turned 50. It was the final season I’d cover football, too. They (the Tucson Citizen) moved me to basketball.”
From the Field — Mario Hampton, former Arizona fullback
“I remember this game like it was yesterday. My memory of this game is that the mighty Sooners earned that No. 6 ranking. That was a man’s game. Unlike the previous year when Oklahoma beat us on the scoreboard, but we beat them up physically, we earned their respect after that game. However, in ’89 we won the game but it was like being in a heavyweight fight. We beat each other up. I had never been hit so hard so many times in my life, but I loved it, going to battle with my Wildcat family.”
The Wildcats started from their 41-yard line and drove 37 yards on 12 plays in 5:15 after forcing the Sooners to punt from their 11 to set up Pfaff’s game-winner. That was the first of four victories against Top 10 teams in the Dick Tomey era.
Oklahoma, which operated out of the wishbone, lost three fumbles, two while driving for possible touchdowns or field goals in the third and fourth quarters. The Sooners fumbled seven times in the 1988 game in Norman and lost two. Arizona was also predominately a wishbone team and did a better job of holding on to the ball.
The game lacked efficient passing. Arizona quarterback Ronald Veal completed four of 16 passes for 49 yards while his counterpart, Oklahoma’s Chris Melson, threw four passes without a completion, the last time an Arizona opponent has failed to complete a pass in a game.
Veal’s best pass was not recorded as he teamed with split end Melvin Smith on an apparent 55-yard touchdown pass play in the second quarter, but the it was nullified when Arizona was called for holding.
Veal, however, managed to drive Arizona from its own 40-yard line to the Oklahoma 22 to set up Pfaff’s game-winner. The Wildcats called a time out with seven seconds left. Oklahoma countered with a time out. When play resumed, Pfaff, who made a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter, was lined up in the middle of the field. The snap was good and the kick was accurate, through the center of the uprights.
“The last offensive drive came against one of the best defenses in the country,” Tomey told reporters.
In a gutsy move, Tomey went for a first down on a fourth-and-1 situation at midfield in the drive. Arizona halfback Mario Hampton squeezed out a yard to keep the drive alive.
Oklahoma came into the game averaging 428 yards rushing, but Arizona limited the Sooners to 222 yards on the ground. Oklahoma also had its share of miscues. Kicker R.D. Lashar missed a 35-yard field goal in the second quarter. A fumble on a punt return by Otis Taylor set up Pfaff for his first field goal.
From the Press Box — Jay Gonzales, former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter
“What I remember most about the win over Oklahoma was that the week before, Arizona was crushed at Texas Tech, not so much in terms of the score, 24-14, but the fact that it gave up more than 200 yards rushing to James Gray, and the Cats were never really in the game. As Greg Hansen and I left the Red Raiders’ stadium, we thought about the prospect of a top 10 team in Oklahoma coming town the next week and all we saw was doom. Greg and I counted the number of wins left on Arizona’s schedule and we could only come up with two or three more. Oklahoma certainly wasn’t one of them. And then it happened. The other lasting memory was the Oklahoma media’s impression of the Wildcats. At the end of the game, I heard an Oklahoma writer say, ‘If (Oklahoma coach Gary) Gibbs tries to tell us they lost to a good team, I’m gonna crush him.'”
The Sooners lost two fumbles in the second half. Fullback Kenyon Rasheed lost a fumble at the Arizona 23-yard line in the third quarter and Melson fumbled at the Wildcat 17-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma’s scoring was limited to Lashar’s 42-yard field goal in the third quarter.
“If we take care of the football, we win,” Gibbs told reporters.
RELATED LINK: Arizona is 3-0 at Arizona Stadium against non-conference teams serving a bowl ban because of NCAA infractions
Arizona’s defense deserves credit for forcing those turnovers and limiting Oklahoma to only a field goal. The Wildcats that season limited eight opponents to less than 20 points. They finished 8-4, including a 17-10 win over North Carolina State in the Copper Bowl. Oklahoma played in the 1994 Copper Bowl at Arizona Stadium, losing 33-6 to BYU. That was the last game of the brief Gibbs era at Oklahoma. Needless to say, the Sooners are not particularly fond of football games in Tucson.
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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.