We have reached only 16 days until the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 campaign under new coach Kevin Sumlin. The season begins when Arizona hosts BYU on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium.
To get ready for the upcoming season, All Sports Tucson offers another countdown, which includes memories from former Wildcats, history notes and a look ahead to the season. Think of it as a way to keep Arizona football on the mind in the summer months leading up to fall camp in early August and then kickoff against the Cougars marking the start of the Sumlin Era.
The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats left the WAC to join the Pac-12 (went from the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 then) and also the 20th anniversary of the 1998 team with the best record in school history, 12-1, and the 25th anniversary of the 1993 team that went 10-2 with a win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
To catch up on the countdown — which included in-depth analysis and reader polls on The Great Debate of which team was better — 1993 or 1998 — click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.
Top 25 developments in Pac-10/12 era
Over the last part of the countdown we are ranking the top 25 developments of Arizona’s Pac-10/12 existence that started in 1978 when it arrived with ASU from the WAC. The ranking will include player highlights, team accomplishments, coaching moves and other off-field developments. If a player is involved, the ranking includes happenings only during the course of that athlete’s time at Arizona.
The ranking up to now:
Win at Notre Dame in 1982
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.
“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.
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.”
The best to wear No. 16 …
This ties into the 1993 vs. 1998 Great Debate — the best to wear No. 16 in Arizona history? Ortege Jenkins in 1998? Dan White in 1993? Tough call with White going 3-0 vs. ASU in his career and being the impeccable offensive leader of the 1993 team that went 10-2. But the best in my opinion is Ortege Jenkins, the master behind the “Leap by the Lake” play that is legendary in Arizona history. Jenkins was also a gifted playmaker at quarterback who split his time with Keith Smith. We are not sure what could have happened if he was given full reign of the offense, but what he did for the most part was solid.
Scenario of the Leap by the Lake … Arizona had the ball at the Washington 9, down 28-24, with 12 seconds left. Arizona coach Dick Tomey was out of timeouts. Jenkins ran out of options and scrambled up the middle and went airborne at about the 3 when confronted with a trio of Huskies. The defenders hit Jenkins low, sending him head over heels, nearly landing on his feet in the end zone. Tomey mentioned it was the most unbelievable ending he has ever seen.
Wearing No. 16 now …
Two players wear the number now, including the brother of one of Arizona’s most prized quarterback recruits. Freshman walk-on receiver William Gunnell is the older brother of four-star quarterback Grant Gunnell, a senior at St. Pius X High School in Houston. William Gunnell followed Sumlin from Texas A&M. The storyline down the road is one brother throwing a pass to another brother in a college game.
The other No. 16 is fifth-year senior punter Jake Glatting, who has 41 punts in his career for an average of 36.8 yards.
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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.