Arizona running back Jonah Coleman advised KCUB 1290-AM listeners during the postgame interview Saturday to look at the Wildcats’ performance in the last 15 minutes of regulation each game this season.
“We start fast and finish faster,” Coleman said. “Fourth quarter is ours. You look back and look at the games, the fourth quarter’s always been ours.
“When the fourth quarter comes, it’s our time.”
Coleman speaks the truth like he runs the ball — with conviction.
No. 23 Arizona continued its season-long string of not getting outscored in the fourth quarter in Saturday’s 34-31 win over Colorado, capped by a last-second 24-yard field goal by Tyler Loop.
It was the Wildcats’ third Pac-12 road victory and improves their record to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference. The last time Arizona won three road Pac-12 games was in 2014 when the Wildcats won the Pac-12 South title. Arizona won a game while being ranked for the first time since 2015.
Arizona has outscored opponents 90-37 in the fourth quarter this season.
The Wildcats topped Colorado 10-0 in the fourth quarter behind 51 of its 207 rushing yards in the game in the quarter. The Buffaloes and ever-dangerous quarterback Shedeur Sanders were held to only 11 yards on the ground and a tame 38 yards passing on 3-of-6 attempts in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just been what we’ve been,” Fisch said of the fourth-quarter performance while interviewed on the 1290-AM postgame show. “We’ve been a physical team in the fourth quarter. We’ve been able to run the ball in the fourth quarter, and it was a heck of a win.”
DJ Williams opened the fourth quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run and Coleman had consecutive runs of 24 and 21 yards in Arizona’s last drive that set up Loop’s game-winning field goal.
Coleman, a sophomore, finished with a career-high 179 yards on only 11 carries (16.3 yards a carry).
His 54-yard burst in Arizona’s first possession of the second half led to Noah Fifita’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Tetairoa McMillan that tied the game at 24 with 12:41 left in the third quarter.
“Phenomenal,” Fisch said of Coleman. “Ran the ball beautifully today. Made some big-time plays, big-time runs. Stiff armed guys, made guys miss, found the hole — just did a fantastic job.”
Overall, Fifita was effective, especially in the fourth quarter, completing 7 of 9 passes for 32 yards.
He finished 21 of 35 for 214 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Wildcats did not turn the ball over, a significant factor needed to win on the road, especially with Colorado hyped over Senior Day.
Fisch mentioned Jayden de Laura — now the backup after being the starter last season and early part of this season before suffering an ankle injury — was essential for Fifita improving his effectiveness as the game went on.
“I think you credit Jaden for how confident he was in Noah,” Fisch said. “After every series, he kept going up to (Fifita) and kept pumping him up, telling them, ‘Hey, I see what you saw. I saw why what happened.’
“He never let him flinch with his confidence. I think when it comes from a player instead of from a coach, it allowed Noah to fight through the early struggles. I really give the credit to the way Jaden and Noah communicated in that first quarter that made a huge difference in the game.”
Colorado took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter when Fifita started 3 of 7 for 58 yards.
Arizona had to punt twice in the quarter, forcing the Wildcats’ defense to the field to defend the elusive Sanders, son of celebrated Colorado coach Deion Sanders.
Colorado led 24-17 at halftime after Shedeur Sanders passed for 189 yards, rushed for a score and passed for another.
The Buffaloes, who had 250 yards of total offense at halftime, were held to only 102 in the second half by Arizona’s defense that seemed to solve Shedeur Sanders’ scrambles by game’s end.
And the Wildcats made stops with young players.
Defensive back Martrell Irby and defensive end Deuce Davis II suffered injuries, which meant freshmen Dominic Lolesio and Kamuela Ka’aihue had to step up and play on key downs.
“The one thing that you’ll always get from our team and our defense is we are not afraid to play freshmen,” Fisch said. “We’re not afraid to play young guys. It doesn’t matter the situation of the game.
“We believe in rotation. We believe in getting guys developed. We had injuries we had to get through … Those guys (Lolesio and Ka’aihue) came in and worked and did a great job. Our defense made the stops when we needed to. … Proud of our defense.”
Colorado took advantage of better field position than Arizona, including its third-quarter possession that resulted in a touchdown with the drive starting at the Wildcat 35 after a punt return of 22 yards by Xavier Weaver.
Shedeur Sanders completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Michael Harrison with 3:22 left in the third quarter to give Colorado a 31-24 lead.
After that, the Buffaloes were held scoreless, forced to punt twice before missing a field goal to finish their last possession.
Fifita completed passes of 26 yards and 19 yards to McMillan, and also an 8-yard pass to Jacob Cowing that put the ball on the Colorado 7-yard line as the third quarter ended.
Williams’ game-tying touchdown run occurred on the next play.
The teams traded punts twice before Colorado’s Alejandro Mata missed a 44-yard field goal with 4:57 left.
Fifita proceeded to lead Arizona from its own 26 to Colorado’s 1 in seven plays with 1:04 remaining. Coleman’s two big runs and Fifita’s two completions to McMillan for 16 yards kept the drive going.
McMillan finished with nine receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Fifita’s 5-yard pass to former Colorado receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig got the Wildcats to the 1-yard line. Lemonious-Craig, who left Deion Sanders’ program a day after excelling in the Buffaloes’ spring game on ESPN, had five catches for 67 yards.
Rather than try to score the touchdown from 1 yard away, Fisch elected for Fifita to kneel in the middle of the field to set up the game-winning field goal by Loop. After three kneels by Fifita, Loop nailed the game-winner.
Fisch said the Wildcats’ cohesiveness is the reason why the Wildcats are on a four-game winning streak following the triple-overtime loss at USC last month.
“I think it is so awesome about these guys when we say that one of our most important values is to love one another,” Fisch said. “All year, they committed to building strong relationships and those relationships came in handy in the second half of this game.
“When we needed stops, the offense was there rooting for them, and when we needed to convert third downs, the defense was there rooting for them. I think it really is a trust and a love for each other that just makes it so much fun to coach his team.”
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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. He became an educator in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.