Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 34 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 27, ASU Sun Devils 24
DATE: Nov. 24, 1979
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, 70,947 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: This game signaled an awakening in the Arizona football program with its series against Arizona State, which was without the late Frank Kush as its head coach for the first time since 1957.
Kush was dismissed five games into the 1979 season for interfering with the school’s internal investigation into allegations from punter Kevin Rutledge that Kush had punched him in the mouth after a bad punt in an Oct. 28, 1978, game against Washington.
The Sun Devils were 3-2 when Kush was dismissed. They finished 6-6 but had to forfeit five of the games after the conclusion of the season because of the use of ineligible players. Their record changed to 1-10.
Thanks to Arizona freshman place-kicker Brett Weber, who nailed a 27-yard field goal with no time left, there was no need for Arizona to beat the Sun Devils by forfeit.
From the Playing Field — Bill Nettling, former Arizona tight end
“The 1979 victory at ASU was a huge win. The game was tied 24-24 with less than a minute left. (Arizona linebacker) Jack Housely (my roommate) intercepted a pass from ASU quarterback Mark Malone (Steelers). (Arizona quarterback) Jim Krohn completed a big pass to wide receiver Greg (Pee-Wee) Jackson. That set up a long field goal attempt with only seconds left. Coach (Tony) Mason chose freshman walk-on Brett Weber for his first ever college kick. Coach Mason had a gut feeling. In the 1978 18-17 loss at home to ASU, then-freshman kicker Bill Zivic had missed two field goals and an extra point. (In Zivic’s defense, it was a wet rainy game in 78). Zivic had made a field goal earlier in the ’79 game but Mason went with the walk-on Weber. Weber missed the kick but was roughed on the kick. He made the second attempt from 27 yards with no time left and we celebrated what used to be a rare victory at Sun Devil Stadium. Hubie (Rock-Man) Oliver had his typical great game of hard running for about 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. The win secured our invite to the ’79 Fiesta Bowl versus Top 10 Pittsburgh. It was supposed to go to BYU but the Fiesta Bowl was played on Christmas Day in 1979 so BYU declined that bid. We were more than happy to accept. We gave Pitt all they could handle but lost 16-10. Not sure how Pitt never won a national title during those Jackie Sherrill years. Dan Marino, Hugh Green, Ricky Jackson, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Jimbo Covert, Carlton Williamson, Benjie Pryor and Randy McMillan. One time I counted and I believe it was 17 players off that ’79 Pitt Team went on to play in the NFL including several who are now in the NFL hall of fame.”
From the Press Box — Dave Petruska, former Tucson Citizen beat writer
“What I remember most is that Tony Mason asked (Brett) Weber what he wanted for Christmas. And Weber said a pair of skis. You could see Weber using his arms to indicate skis. Mason, of course, was referring to a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Weber was a walk-on (placekicker) and we were all surprised that Mason sent Weber out there instead of Bill Zivic.”
A roughing-the-kicker penalty gave Weber a second chance for the victory. Weber, a barefooted kicker who was not listed on the Arizona pre-printed roster for the game, missed the first attempt from 38 yards. The roughing-the-kicker penalty enabled him to try again from 27 yards and he nailed it. An interception by Arizona’s Jack Housley off a Mark Malone pass set up the final sequence with Weber, who coach Tony Mason used as a replacement for regular kicker Bill Zivic. Mason made the switch after Zivic missed a 39-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter.
It was the Wildcats’ first win at Sun Devil Stadium since 1961, ending a losing streak of eight games in Tempe. The Wildcats accepted an invitation to return to Sun Devil Stadium to play in the Fiesta Bowl, in which it played Dan Marino and Pittsburgh. The Wildcats lost that game 16-10.
The end of the Kush era proved to be significant to the rivalry. Arizona held a 23-8 series advantage over ASU when Kush became the Sun Devils’ head coach in 1958. During Kush’s 21 years at ASU (1958-79), the Sun Devils turned the table on the Wildcats, owning a 16-5 record in that period. ASU won a record nine straight games against the UA from 1965 to 1973. Without Kush, ASU has gone 15-19-1 since against Arizona, which went nine years without a loss against their rivals from 1982-90.
Three fumbles by ASU enabled Arizona to take a 24-10 lead in the third quarter of the 1979 game, but the Sun Devils rallied to tie the game with 13:06 left in the game.
From the Press Box — Jay Gonzales, former Arizona Daily Star beat writer
“I remember that the previous year, Bill Zivic, who had gone to high school in Tucson, badly missed a field goal that would have beaten ASU and we just didn’t feel good about our chances. So when the UA lined up to kick this game winner, a new guy was out on the field and we were wondering, “Who’s he?” We dug out our programs and saw it was someone named Brett Weber. If I recall, Weber missed on the first try but there was a penalty on ASU. He made the game-winner the second time, and suddenly Arizona was in the Fiesta Bowl. We didn’t hear much about Weber after that. But for that night, he was a hero.”
The Wildcats, who achieved their first winning record of 6-5-1 under Mason (in his third and final season in Tucson), were led by fullback Hubert Oliver’s 93 yards on 23 carries against ASU. Tailback Larry Heater also had 88 yards rushing for Arizona.
Arizona’s game against Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl was Mason’s last as he was fired amid alleged NCAA recruiting violations that ultimately led to the Wildcats serving a two-year probation in 1983 and 1984.
New Mexico coach Bob Davie, the former Notre Dame head coach and college football announcer for ESPN, was the linebackers coach for the Wildcats in the 1979 game. When Davie prepared Notre Dame to face ASU in 1998 at Sun Devil Stadium, he recounted driving back to Tucson with former Arizona assistant Ron Turner, now the quarterback coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and celebrating the victory over the Sun Devils while on I-10.
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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.