By Ryan Casey
Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior running back Mike Bell flips into the end zone during the third quarter of Arizona’s 52-14 win over then-No. 14 UCLA. The Wildcats’ 38-point margin of victory was larger than their previous season high in points scored, 31, set Sept. 10 against NAU.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 7, 2005
Cats’ ground game tramples Bruins
Senior running back Mike Bell’s flip into the end zone in the third quarter Saturday at Arizona Stadium seemed to epitomize the struggle the Arizona football team had finally overcome: With a defender between the Wildcats and their goal, they finally got over the hump.
Bell rushed for 153 yards on 16 carries, including the touchdown, and fellow senior Gilbert Harris had a career-high 113 yards and a score, as Arizona rolled to a 52-14 upset of No. 14 UCLA in front of 55,775 fans.
“It happened so fast,” Bell said of his touchdown, which mirrored Ortege Jenkins’ end-over-end leap for the game-winning score against Washington in 1998. “I just remember there was one (defender), I knew I wanted to score and I knew I was going to have an opportunity, so I left my feet and jumped.”
The Arizona student section, filled to capacity throughout the game, began to empty onto the field as the game clock ticked down.
Students lined the sidelines while UCLA tried to drive against the Wildcats’ second-string defense with still two minutes to play, waiting for their chance to storm the field in celebration of the biggest win of head coach Mike Stoops’ short tenure.
“Last week was just a stepping stone of us turning this program around,” senior safety Darrell Brooks said of his team’s 29-27 win Oct. 29 over Oregon State. “We came out (Saturday night) confident, focused — that’s a big thing, we played real confident.
“We had fun, we had a little swagger about ourselves, because we knew that we were going to win this game,” he said.
Arizona (3-6, 2-4 Pacific 10 Conference) jumped out to an early 21-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to true freshmen Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas.
Thomas got the Wildcats on the scoreboard almost six minutes into the game after taking a pitch from Tuitama on a reverse, sprinting 17 yards into the end zone for his first career-rushing touchdown.
The play was set up by a 51-yard strike from Tuitama to Bell, on a play fake that Bell said they had been practicing all week.
“We ran it three or four times, and (the first-team defense) always bit on it,” he said. “I was so scared that I was going to drop it because I was going to be so nervous that I was wide open.”
After Tuitama hit junior tight end Brad Wood for a 7-yard score less than six minutes later, the Tuitama-to-Thomas connection appeared once again, this time over the middle of the field for a 48-yard touchdown.
“I just wanted to go out there and try and be a leader on the field and try and lead the team to victory,” Tuitama said. “(Saturday) we did that.”
The Wildcats scored on their fourth consecutive drive when Harris punched in his touchdown from 18 yards out to put Arizona up 28-0 with 10:08 to play in the first half.
After a Nick Folk 36-yard field goal closed out the first half, and Bell’s leaping score opened the second, junior wide receiver Syndric Steptoe broke through a horde of Bruin defenders and scampered 63 yards down the Wildcat sideline for his first career punt return for a touchdown to put Arizona up 45-7.
Junior linebacker Marcus Hollingsworth ensured the Wildcat defense was not left out of the scoring mix.
He fell on a fumbled screen pass in the end zone with 4:09 left in the third quarter to cap Arizona’s scoring, three points shy of its Pac-10 record for points in a game.
“Tonight’s one of the nights where we played good in all three areas (offense, defense and special teams),” Stoops said. “It was our night. Everything went our way, and that was a big difference.”
A week after tossing two touchdowns without an interception against OSU, Tuitama again kept the ball out of the hands of the defense, finishing 14-of-24 for 204 yards.
“It just goes to show you: You do things right, good things are going to happen,” Stoops said. “That’s just what I believe in, and we’ve done things right — we’ve built a tremendous foundation, regardless of what everyone wants to say.”
Arizona looks to make it three straight wins in Pac-10 play when Washington heads to the Old Pueblo on Saturday.
“Tonight we lost to a very good football team,” said UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell. “We’ll learn from this game and get ready to play Arizona State next week.
“As for tonight,” he added, “my hat’s off to Arizona.”
Arizona had never scored more than 42 points in the 78-year history of its series against UCLA … The Wildcats’ 31-point first half equaled their biggest offensive outpoint for an entire game on the season (Sept. 10 against NAU) … Before Saturday, Arizona hadn’t scored more than 14 points in a quarter this season … Tuitama completed his first seven passes, throwing his first incompletion with 12:37 to play in the second quarter … The Wildcats had four touchdown drives take less than three minutes, including their longest drive of the season, a 10-play, 90-yard drive capped by Harris’ score … Arizona scored on seven of its first eight drives … The win gave the Wildcats their first back-to-back wins in Pac-10 play since 2000.