Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 14 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 16, No. 20 ASU Sun Devils 13
DATE: Nov. 23, 1985
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, 72,345 (largest crowd at a sporting event in Arizona at the time)
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Poor John Cooper. Yes, the former ASU coach guided the Sun Devils to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 1986, but he never beat the Arizona Wildcats in three tries. In the season Cooper and ASU went to the Rose Bowl, the Wildcats dominated the Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium in a 34-17 win. In the season after in Tempe, all the Sun Devils had to do was get a punt off in the waning seconds to beat the Wildcats. The punter fumbled and Arizona tied the game on a field goal to extend “The Streak” to six games without a loss to the Sun Devils. Cooper then left to Ohio State.
The fourth game in “The Streak” — Arizona’s unlikely win in 1985 — happened because of the foot of place-kicker Max Zendejas and the questionable play calling of Cooper (who was in his first season in Tempe).
All the Sun Devils needed was a tie against Arizona to advance to the Rose Bowl after they learned that first-place UCLA lost earlier in the day to USC.
From the Press Box — Dave Petruska, former Tucson Citizen beat reporter
“I was on the sidelines with several members of the Sun Bowl Committee as Max Zendejas was lining up his kick. They were as nervous as any UA fans there, and when the kick went through, they all jumped in the air.”
ASU, 8-2 and on a six-game winning streak, appeared headed to Pasadena with the game tied at 13-13 and 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils had possession after advancing 12 yards from their 20 to the 32.
Cooper called a running play on first down to eat some more clock. But instead of executing at least two running plays to chew up more clock, Cooper went with the high-risk choices of passing on second and third down. The risk backfired. After quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst threw an incompletion on second down, Arizona nose guard Stan Mataele sacked Van Raaphorst and caused a fumble, which Mataele recovered at the ASU 20.
From the Press Box — Dave Silver, former KGUN-TV sports director
“KGUN was fortunate to cover the game in Tempe. I remember arriving at Sun Devil Stadium about three hours before the game. The ASU student section was filling up and everyone was chanting, ‘Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl.’ All they had to do was beat the Arizona. But the ‘Cats defense came up big, along with special teams. Byron Evans made one of the most memorable plays in UA history, stripping Anthony Parker on a third quarter punt return. Don Be’Ans would recover the football. Max Zendejas came up huge with 57-yard and 32-yard field goals in the fourth quarter. Arizona won the game 16-13, preventing ASU from reaching the Rose Bowl.”
That gave Zendejas the opportunity to make a game-winning 32-yard field goal with 1:43 left as the Wildcats prevented their rivals from the Rose Bowl for the second time in four years. ASU also needed at least a tie in 1982 to advance to the Rose Bowl under Darryl Rogers but lost 28-18 in Tucson — the beginning of “The Streak”.
“Would I go for a tie this time? Yes, sir, I’m smarter now,” Cooper was quoted as saying by The Los Angeles Times following the 1985 season. “It was a good ballgame, and we played pretty well. But people around here say you’ve got to do two things — beat the U of A and go to the Rose Bowl.”
In the 1985 game, ASU had averaged 42 yards punting against Arizona, which was ineffective on offense that evening. The Wildcats finished with only 186 total yards on offense, compared to ASU’s 362. The Wildcats had only 10 first downs to the Sun Devils’ 23. The UA’s special teams accounted for all 16 points in the game. Playing close to the vest — instead of passing on second and third down — was the wise choice for ASU with the Rose Bowl in the balance.
Other mistakes — and Arizona’s opportunistic defense and special-teams plays — also cost ASU.
— On their final drive of the first half, the Sun Devils advanced from midfield to the Arizona 17. With eight seconds left, Cooper did not elect to try a 34-yard field goal. Instead, a Van Raaphorst pass was intercepted. The game remained tied 3-3 at the half.
— With ASU leading 13-3 in the third quarter, the Sun Devils’ Anthony Parker elected to catch and run a punt from the ASU 16-yard line instead of calling for a fair catch or letting the punt go potentially to the end zone for a touchback.
Instead, Parker was stripped of the ball by Arizona linebacker Byron Evans on the return. The ball bounced into the ASU end zone and Don Be’Ans recovered for the touchdown, cutting the ASU lead to 13-10. A fair catch by Parker would have secured ASU’s 13-3 lead over an Arizona team that ran the ball 39 times for only 44 yards.
The Parker fumble and Arizona touchdown was sweet justice for Evans, who is from Phoenix and wanted to play at ASU but was not recruited by the Sun Devils. Evans never lost to ASU while at Arizona.
— At the start of the fourth quarter, ASU drove the ball from its 20 to the Arizona 5, setting up a 22-yard field-goal try for freshman kicker Kent Bostrom. He missed the kick that would have given ASU a 16-10 lead.
— Zendejas missed a 52-yard field goal attempt later in the fourth quarter, but the left side of the Wildcat line moved just before the snap. The dead-ball foul nullified the miss and made it mandatory to penalize the Wildcats five yards. Arizona coach Larry Smith did not hesitate to allow Zendejas to try again from 57 yards out with 5:29 remaining.
Zendejas tied a school record with the 57-yard attempt, easily clearing the cross bar by at least 10 yards. The kick, dead center, tied him with Lee Pistor for the longest field goal in Arizona history. It also tied the game with ASU at 13 and set up Zendejas’ game-winner from 32 yards with 1:43 remaining in the game. In 1983, Zendejas made a 45-yard field goal as time expired to give the UA a 17-15 victory in Tempe.
“I’m pretty sure they hate me here,” Zendejas was quoted as saying by The Arizona Republic. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity. It’s something I dream about. I’m always looking for glory.”
The Wildcats’ win gave them consecutive victories against ASU at Sun Devil Stadium for the first time. Arizona beat ASU at Goodwin Stadium, the previous Tempe venue, on consecutive times in 1953 and 1955.
Arizona and ASU finished tied with UCLA for first place in the Pac-10 with two losses. The conference played an uneven schedule back then as UCLA finished 6-2 and Arizona and ASU were 5-2. UCLA won the tie-breaker because it beat ASU and Arizona in head-to-head competition. ASU lost 18-17 to Arkansas in the Holiday Bowl while Arizona tied Georgia 13-13 in the Sun Bowl to close out the season.
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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.