Instead of getting a lecture at halftime, Joe Salave'a found himself giving one.
The Arizona redshirt sophomore defensive lineman was on his way to the University Medical Center during halftime, and apparently the driver of the vehicle, a UA trainer, was not going as fast as Salave'a would have liked.
"I was telling the driver to hurry up because there was a game going on, and I didn't need to be waiting for x-rays," Salave'a said. "Either do them now or wait until after the game."
Salave'a injured his left wrist just before halftime of Arizona's 34-24 win over UCLA Saturday, and the trainers, fearing the worst, sent Salave'a to UMC to see if the wrist was broken.
He could not remember on what play or how he injured his wrist, which doctors diagnosed as a sprain, except to say he felt a lot of pain.
"I don't recall what happened, except that there was pain coming out of the wrist at halftime," Salave'a said. "As soon as the doctors told me there was no broken bone I was back. Even though if I would have fractured it, I would still have gone back out there."
Who said emergency room visits always involve long waits? Salave'a was motored back to the stadium (he declined to listen to the game on the radio) and re-entered the contest with about
three minutes to go in the third quarter, and the Wildcats clinging to a 21-17 lead.
After Arizona added a Steve McLaughlin 44-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, UCLA marched from their 23 to their 47 yard line. Then Salave'a took over.
He chased Bruin quarterback Wayne Cook out of the pocket and sacked him, causing Cook to fumble. UCLA recovered, but it was an 18-yard loss. After Cook threw the ball away to escape a Chris Lopez rush, Salave'a made the play that turned the tide of the game.
On third and 28 from their own 29 yard line, Cook completed a screen pass to flanker Avery Anderson, who cut his way under the Wildcat defense. Salave'a had been rushing on the play and was well behind Anderson after he caught the ball.
No matter. Salave'a, all 6-4, 270 pounds of him, backtracked down the field and sent Anderson, who had already picked up 12 yards, and the ball, flying. Anderson found the turf, and the ball found Arizona cornerback Spencer Wray, who returned the fumble 15 yards. That set up a McLaughlin 24 yarder that gave Arizona a 27-17 lead with just over seven minutes to go.
"It was a screen pass, and on a screen the coaches tell us to stop and retrace our steps backwards and be around the ball," Salave'a said. "I just did what I was told to do. What can I say? We knew we needed to get takeaways, and I was just fortunate it was me that came up with it."
"I had no idea he might have had a broken wrist," Lopez said. "On the fumble, the guy I was covering just stopped, so I thought we got him, and the next thing I know, Joe swiped the ball away. It was a great play."
For Salave'a, his play was indicative of the progress he has made since coming to the UA from Pago Pago, Samoa by way of Oceanside (Calif.) High School.
"Joe's really made a difference to our team, and we didn't expect him to make that kind of contribution," Arizona head coach Dick Tomey said. "The fumble was a big, huge play. If you are going to have a good team, you need people to make plays like that."
After the game, Salave'a said that while seeing his teammates like wide receiver Richard Dice play through pain gave him the resolve to re-enter the game, more immediate concerns were on his mind.
"(The wrist) was bothering me, but in that situation, with UCLA driving, it didn't matter," Salave'a said about his return. "The pain was gone."
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