Football analysis: Cats can't find fortune from fumbles

By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 27, 2004

When the ball's bouncing your way, it's really bouncing your way.

That is until it, well, doesn't bounce your way.

The word play translated directly to the field Saturday for the Arizona football team, as the Wildcats won the turnover battle, 4-2, over visiting Washington State at Arizona Stadium. The problem for the Wildcats: It didn't translate onto the scoreboard.

Neither quarterback, Cougar Josh Swogger or Wildcat Kris Heavner, threw an interception. Neither team dominated on either side of the ball for any length of time, other than a first quarter that saw the Cougars outgain the Wildcats more than 10-to-1 in total offense.

The real story underlying Washington State's 20-19 victory was a recorded nine fumbles, including the game's most significant and most bizarre play - a fumble by Arizona running back Gilbert Harris on the Wildcats' own 31-yard line inside 90 seconds to play.

Washington State would get the ball and score just seconds later, leaving the Wildcats with less than a prayer of recovering in time to pull out the victory.

Arizona did take the ball away, led by a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries by junior linebacker Sean Jones. Jones was one of three Wildcats to both force and recover at least one fumble, along with safety Lamon Means and defensive end Carlos Williams.

"We're a punishing defense," said junior free safety and co-captain Darrell Brooks. "That's what we pride ourselves on."

The loss was the Wildcats' second straight in the game's final minutes, after falling 9-7 to nationally-ranked Wisconsin a week earlier.

Williams said he couldn't understand how the Wildcats could do so many good things defensively and still come away winless.

"If you take the ball away, you limit their options," Williams added. "It's real frustrating. Obviously, this is going to hurt tonight."

"I did think we were done when Arizona got the first down," said Washington State coach Bill Doba. "I knew we only had one timeout left and I was trying to figure out if we had a chance."

Doba said he failed to get far enough to actually come up with the answer to that question when the fateful moment occurred - WSU senior linebacker Pat Bennett's helmet jarred the ball out of Harris' hands and straight into the air before a teammate recovered.

If Doba didn't even think the Cougars had a chance, should the Wildcats have thought the game was anything but won?

"We did everything right," said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "It looked like the guy just put his hat on the ball."

Arizona was searching for a first down when Bennett popped the ball out. Even if the Wildcats' hadn't reached a first down and were forced to punt, Wazzu likely would have been too far downfield with too little time left to make any serious run at the end zone.

A successful afternoon turned sour means it's back to the drawing board for Stoops, who leads the Wildcats back onto the field in two weeks against UCLA, at - of all places - the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

"I wish it was two weeks feeling good about what we did," Stoops said.

It's expected that Stoops would be upset, but maybe his players have the right idea on where to go from here.

"I'm proud of everybody on this team," Brooks said, adding that he won't place blame on anyone after a game like Saturday's. "We have no choice but to be confident."