Multiple turnovers cost Wildcats shot at first conference win
Turnovers were the Arizona football team's undoing Saturday against Pacific 10 Conference foe Stanford, as the Wildcats lost 20-16 before a Family Weekend crowd of 54,216 at Arizona Stadium.
In its first home conference game of 2005, Arizona (1-5, 0-3 Pac-10) committed five turnovers, three of which led to Cardinal scores.
"We killed ourselves," said senior tailback Mike Bell. "I know of a couple times myself I was dropping the ball and just being careless."
Stanford (3-2, 2-1) capitalized on three fumbles and two interceptions, playing on a short field most of the evening and committing no turnovers.
Bell got a touchdown on five of his game-high 88 yards late in the third quarter, cutting the Cardinal lead to 17-14. It was the Phoenix native's first rushing touchdown since Sept. 10 and ended a 33-minute Wildcat scoring drought.
Arizona got on the scoreboard just over six minutes into the first quarter when senior tailback Gilbert Harris capped off an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
However, fumbles by redshirt sophomore quarterback Richard Kovalcheck and freshman wide receiver Mike Thomas and a Kovalcheck interception on successive possessions in the first half kept an offense that accrued 188 yards in the first two quarters out of the end zone.
"I'm very disappointed in our execution offensively," said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "For whatever reason, we can't find our rhythm."
Despite struggling most of the night, the Stanford offense used error-free play and four drives that began in Wildcat territory to create a lead the Wildcats were unable to overcome.
Senior quarterback Trent Edwards carried the Cardinal with 137 yards on 16-of-26 passing and two touchdowns and was Stanford's leading rusher with 32 yards on nine carries.
Edwards' output totaled 87 percent of Stanford's entire offensive production.
"Our defense played well," Stoops said. "I don't think (Stanford) moved the ball downfield all night."
Of the four Stanford possessions that resulted in scores, only one began in Cardinal territory - an 80-yard, 10-play drive that opened the third quarter, capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Edwards to junior tight end Michael Horgan.
Sophomore linebacker Spencer Larsen, who has been sidelined with knee and hamstring injuries at various times this season, had an impact in his first full outing since 2002. His nine tackles were a team high.
The Wildcat defense held Stanford to 195 yards of total offense and gave Arizona a chance to win in the fourth quarter, holding the Cardinal scoreless in the final stanza.
Stanford's last score came with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a Michael Sgroi field goal, set up by a Kovalcheck fumble at the Arizona 23-yard line.
Arizona took possession at its own 49-yard line in
the fourth with just over three minutes remaining, trailing 20-14.
The Wildcats' comeback chances were dashed with 1:17 left, when safety Brandon Harrison intercepted a Kovalcheck desperation heave in the end zone.
On its ensuing possession, Stanford was forced into a three-and-out, and head coach Walt Harris called for an intentional safety to prevent a punt to dangerous Arizona kick return specialist Syndric Steptoe.
The strategy paid off, thanks in part to a 15-yard late-hit penalty, as a Cardinal free kick resulted in the Wildcats starting at their own 36 with under 10 seconds to go. Three last-ditch Kovalcheck efforts were unsuccessful.
It was a fitting end to a game Arizona players and coaches afterward called disappointing.
Junior tight end Brad Wood, who finished with five receptions for 31 yards, said the loss was particularly tough to swallow, as Arizona "expected great things" against Stanford.