Saved by a prayer
There's nothing like another miracle in the state of Washington for the Arizona football team.
The Wildcats (3-2 overall, 1-1 Pacific 10 Conference) defeated Washington State 30-24 on senior quarterback Keith Smith's 42-yard Hail Mary pass to freshman wide receiver Bobby Wade with no time left.
"Keith threw the best ball, the perfect ball, by far," Wade said. "To throw it into the wind, to get the spiral, everything went as planned. O.J. (Ortege Jenkins) had a great jump on the ball, he got clipped by a couple guys and that allowed me to be open by myself and the ball fell through everybody's hands right into my lap."
Smith was throwing into a 50 mph wind which had affected the entire game, with neither team scoring against the wind until Arizona did in the fourth quarter.
"There's so much I appreciate about the way our guys played," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "For us to score twice against the wind in the fourth quarter was incredible. I've never played in conditions like that. We had no turnovers and we really needed that."
Despite the final score the Wildcats outplayed WSU in every aspect of the game, showing considerable improvement from weeks past.
The offensive line dominated in the second half, helping senior running back Trung Canidate grind out 158 yards on a career-high 34 carries. Canidate scored three times for UA, his first touchdowns of the season.
Other wide receivers stepped up as well, with Wade racking up 100 yards on five receptions, as senior wide receiver Dennis Northcutt (107 yards, 5 receptions) was double-teamed for much of the afternoon.
Northcutt (208 yards of total offense) also returned a punt 68 yards to set up Arizona's go-ahead score in the third quarter.
One bad series for the defense and three mistakes led to all of the Cougars' points:
On the Cougars' first scoring drive, they decided to go for it on 4th and 2 on the UA 23.
UA cornerback Kelvin Hunter missed WSU freshman running back Deon Burnett behind the line of scrimmage, leaving Hunter pounding the turf in frustration as Burnett got the first down.
Three plays later, WSU senior quarterback Steve Birnbaum found receiver Farwan Zubedi in the endzone.
A couple of bad runs buried the Wildcats at the 16-yard line on their next possession and sophomore punter Chris Palic's punt went all of 26 yards into the wind. WSU kicker Rian Lindell made UA pay with a 52-yard field goal to put the Cougars up 10-7.
The fourth quarter started with another missed field goal from UA senior kicker Mark McDonald, who was 0 for 4 on the day.
WSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Gesser came in and thanks to his ability to run, added a new dimension to the game Arizona couldn't stop.
Gesser threw for 33 yards and ran for 29 in the drive while Burnett ran for 17 yards, with his 2-yard walk into the endzone tying the game 17-17.
"In the end, we played bad defense in the fourth quarter," Tomey said.
The defense's final mistake was to blitz Gesser on 2nd and 10 from the WSU 45. Burnett exploded into the open and ran 55 yards, tying the game 24-24.
In the end, it was up to Smith to take the ball with 1:56 left and march the Wildcats 80 yards down the field. The result made the game one of the most memorable in his career.
"Probably the best, the most exciting one by far," Smith said. "I've never won a game on a last second throw like that. For me that's one of the best I've ever been a part of."
The Wildcats now get a week off to address their nagging injuries and to work out the problems they had against WSU.
"We're starting to get confidence," Smith said. "There were certain plays... we could have busted for a lot more than 500 (yards). We're just a few blocks away from breaking a lot of big plays."