Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is six 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. 9 Notre Dame 13
DATE: October 16, 1982
SITE: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., 59,075 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: One of the greatest plays and games in the history of Arizona football could have been altered if Max Zendejas did not change his mind and remained on the team bus after hastily going there at halftime.
Zendejas told me in a 2009 interview that he was very upset that coach Larry Smith did not allow him to kick a 52-yard field goal with less than a minute left before halftime because Smith was concerned about the wind at hallowed Notre Dame Stadium. Zendejas also previously missed a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Smith elected to punt the ball, which sent Zendejas, a 19-year-old freshman, into a fury. He told me he left the locker room and went to the team bus. Some players and coaches visited him and pleaded for him to get back on the field.
Former UA assistant coach Gary Bernardi confirmed the story to me when he was a UNLV assistant in 2009.
From the Press Box — Dave Petruska, former Tucson Citizen beat reporter
“I was thrilled for the Arizona players and coaches, but from a professional standpoint, the Notre Dame win was the most frustrating day for me ever at the Tucson Citizen, well, except for the day the paper shut down. The Citizen came out earlier on Saturday afternoons than on weekdays, but columnist Corky Simpson and myself begged the publisher and managing editor to push back the press time so that we could have same-day coverage of the game. We both thought after the way UA had played against UCLA that the Cats matched up well against the Irish. We could have promoted it all that week – Saturday’s home delivery will be later than normal to bring you same-day coverage of the game. They wouldn’t budge. We could have sold thousands of papers! So my story for the paper, which was more than 48 hours by the time it was published, focused on a fiery halftime speech by assistant coach Tom Roggeman. Oh, by the way, even if Zendejas had missed the game-winner, UA would have gotten another chance because Notre Dame’s Dave Duerson roughed Max on the kick.”
“I was kind of stubborn back then,” Zendejas told me with a laugh, “but I know deep down that I could have made that kick before halftime. I just let it get the best of me but that shows what kind of competitor I am.”
After the coaxing by others and the realization that his team might need him in the second half, Zendejas gathered himself and returned to the field in time to make field goals of 38 and 32 yards in the third quarter to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 10-6. Smith also allowed Zendejas to line up for a 48-yard field goal, once again testing Zendejas’ foot and leg strength against the swirling wind in the Notre Dame Stadium. Zendejas missed and the Fighting Irish maintained their four-point lead.
“It was just a matter of believing in ourselves,” UA coach Larry Smith was quoted by the Associated Press after the game. “Our kicker, Max Zendejas, is young. He’s learning and he has the range. He’s a very fine kicker.”
Arizona’s defense shut down the Fighting Irish after Notre Dame, ranked ninth nationally with a 4-0 record, looked like it might dominate the game in first quarter. Freshman tailback Allen Pinkett ran for 25 yards to put the Irish up 10-0 and the score remained the same until halftime. Pinkett gained only 12 yards afterward.
From the Playing Field — Bill Nettling, former Arizona tight end
“The win in South Bend was one of the most prestigious simply because it was in South Bend and Notre Dame was still an elite program back then. The winning field goal shot was priceless because it was at the end zone with ‘Touchdown Jesus’ in the background and there is a great picture of the winning score, the sad faces of the Irish fans and Touchdown Jesus in the background. That win on the road in South Bend put UA on the map nationally. At the season-ending banquet, Larry (Smith) would always present the Seniors with a book called “The Edge”. He had the big wins embossed on the inside cover. One by one the Seniors read those scores of victories over #1 USC, Notre Dame, and ASU (in 1982). The ASU wins always got the biggest round of applause.”
The Wildcats looked like they still felt the aftershocks of the tie against No. 8 UCLA in the previous week in Pasadena. Zendejas kicked a 43-yard field goal with 35 seconds left in that game to put the Wildcats ahead 24-21. But the Bruins, aided by a penalty and a dropped interception, moved 60 yards in 31 seconds to set up John Lee’s game-tying 36-yard field goal as time expired.
“We were angry and frustrated with what happened in that game,” Smith is quoted as saying by the AP. “I was very disappointed because we had a great victory snatched from our hands. They (UCLA) tied us, we didn’t tie them.”
That anger reached a boiling point in the halftime with Zendejas leaving to the team bus. The Wildcats’ defense played with rage in the second half. Arizona’s Ray Moret intercepted a pass thrown by Notre Dame’s Blair Kiel that set up Zendejas’ 38-yarder in the third quarter. Don Be’Ans then stripped the ball from Notre Dame returning Joe Howard on the ensuing kickoff, which led to Zendejas’ 32-yard field goal.
Following a 43-yard field goal by Mike Johnston in the fourth quarter that gave Notre Dame a 13-6 lead, Arizona quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe engineered a 79-yard scoring drive against Notre Dame’s “Gold Rush” defense. Phil Freeman’s 1-yard plunge with 8:40 left for the touchdown with 8:40 remaining in the game was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Fighting Irish that season.
After a Notre Dame punt, the Wildcats (1-2-1 entering the game) started their game-winning drive on their 20-yard line. Tunnicliffe’s 19-yard pass to Brad Anderson on third down set the ball at the Notre Dame 32. Smith allowed the clock to run down to six seconds before sending Zendejas in for the 48-yard attempt.
“I felt at the end of the game if we kept it (the ball) within the 35-yard line, that we had a chance to win it with a field goal,” Smith told the AP. “The wind was a factor. We wanted to get it as close as possible while staying in’the middle of the field.”
Zendejas lined up for his 48-yard attempt. The snap from Steve Justice was perfect as was the hold by Kevin Ward. Zendejas got great lift on the kick and it barely cleared the cross bar for the game-winner.
Pete Solomon, the broadcast voice for the Wildcats’ telecast, proclaimed: “Down go the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame! …”
Zendejas did not see the field goal. He was on his backside as a result of a roughing-the-kicker play by Notre Dame’s Dave Duerson. The penalty of course was declined by Arizona and the Wildcats achieved “their most prestigious win,” according to Smith.
“Max had to kick against the wind, and he just went out there and did the job,” Smith was quoted as saying by the AP.
“The guys started yelling and jumping on me so I knew that I made it,” Zendejas told me. “I had missed those two earlier and I know Coach Smith, bless his soul, was concerned about the wind.
“I kid around with people that Rudy is not the only one who got carried off the field at South Bend.”
Arizona 0 0 6 10-16
Notre Dame 10 0 0 3-13
ND – FG Johnston 22
ND — Pinkett 25 run (Johnston klcK)
UA – FG Zendejas 38
UA – FG Zendejas 32
ND – FG Johnston 43
UA – Freeman 1 run (Zendejas klcK)
UA – FG Zendejas 48
Rushing — Arizona, Freeman 11-30, Griffin 7-
14, Johnson 5-12. Notre Dame, Carter 15-55,
Brooks 13-47, Pinkett 10-37.
Passing – Arizona, Tunnicllffe 19-38-0-199.
Notre Dame, Kiel 13-21-3-80.
Receiving — Arizona, Anderson 5-61, Keel 4-36,
Johnson 3-30, Griffin 3-29, Ward 2-28. Notre Dame, Brooks 5-21,
Howard 4-33, Pearcy 2-10, Hunter 1-13.
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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.