In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 25 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 25 days away.
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 sixth 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 under 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. 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. Then, Oklahoma countered with a time out. When play resumed, Pfaff, who had kicked 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. UA 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 it 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.
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.
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.
RELATED LINK: Arizona is 3-0 at Arizona Stadium against non-conference teams serving a bowl ban because of NCAA infractions
No. 26 — UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 27 — Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 28 — UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 29 — Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 30 — Arizona win on last-second FG over ASU ends Kush dominance in series (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 31 — Arizona reaches its zenith under Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 32 — Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 33 — Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 34 — ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 35 — Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 36 — Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (TucsonCitizen.com)