Lightning delays UA football loss

By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 20, 2004

It was expected that the weather would be a factor in Saturday's Arizona football game against No. 20 Wisconsin, but no one could have predicted that lightning and heavy rain caused by Hurricane Javier would force stadium officials to clear the stands and stop play for 88 minutes.

Arizona was hoping to use the 1 p.m. start time to its advantage, with early predictions of temperatures at kickoff reaching the mid-90s and talk of new "cool shirts" from Nike helping keep players cool on the sidelines heating up mid-week.

But the Wildcats instead found themselves on the short side of a heartbreaking 9-7 loss in the wet weather, their second defeat in three games this season, after sophomore kicker Nick Folk's 47-yard field goal attempt in the game's final minute flew wide left.

"We're obviously disappointed in the outcome," said UA head coach Mike Stoops. "Throughout most of the game, I thought we played quite well. A lack of execution in critical situations down the stretch was the difference. In the end, you had to make all the plays, and we didn't make nearly enough in the last quarter."

The decision to resume the game, after referees stopped play with 6:13 remaining in the second quarter, was a collaboration between Stoops, Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez and UA athletics director Jim Livengood.

Halftime was cancelled in Saturday's game, marking the first time the Pride of Arizona marching band did not perform at halftime. The delay was also the first during a game at Arizona Stadium since Sept. 11, 1993, when the Wildcats defeated University of Pacific, 16-13.

Livengood said heavy rain probably wouldn't have stopped the game on its own, but lightning in the area is a much more serious issue.

"The first thing in deciding, as we move forward, is what we do with the National Weather Service," Livengood said, noting that organization's location is just blocks from the stadium on the UA campus, at East Sixth Street and North Park Avenue. "We were getting our heads-up from them, in terms of what the weather system looks like.

"The NCAA has a rule that if you have lightning within six miles or less, then immediately clear the stadium," Livengood added. "Get the kids out of of there, the players out of there, the fans and everybody else out of there. That makes it a no-brainer right there."

Livengood said it is unlikely the teams would have made up the game if the weather didn't subside.

"If we would have had to call the game, we probably would have not played," he said. "We had fans, we had players, we had a lot of people concerned, and we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could right now, at the moment."

While keeping the safety of everyone involved in mind, Livengood said it was important to him that the game continue to provide maximum media coverage for Stoops, hired nine months ago to resurrect the troubled UA football program.

"The thing for us, this game had the potential to be seen by over 85 million people across the country," Livengood said of the contest, televised nationally on the Fox Sports Net cable television network. "And people never factor that into the equation. But we need to have people see Mike, and we need to have them see this program so they see that it's different. That perception is a big factor."

Stoops was quick to point out that he didn't blame the delay for the loss.

"(The delay) was unfortunate," he said. "We tried to make some adjustments - let the kids relax, take their pads off and just get ready to go again. I don't think it had an effect on either team."

Some of Stoops' players may have had different opinions, however.

"I wish we didn't have the delay," said junior linebacker Sean Jones. "It was kind of cold. We came back into the tent and everyone was complaining that their legs weren't moving right, which is kind of a problem. We had the momentum going into the delay and it just bit us in the butt."