Some seniors remember the high points. Others go low.
Arizona Wildcats receiver Shawn Poindexter said he’ll never forget last November’s trip to Corvallis, Oregon. The Beavers beat the Cats by 25 points. It was miserable.
“It was raining. We were getting whupped. It was a terrible experience,” Poindexter recalled this week.
Less than a year later, Arizona paid Oregon State back and then some.
The Wildcats battered the Beavers 49-28 in front of an announced crowd of 40,984 Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Arizona bounced back from last week’s loss at USC and won for the fifth time in the past six weeks.
The margin of victory was partly a product of the Beavers’ struggles. They’re in the midst of their own miserable experience, having won only one game, by three points over Portland State. Their coach, Gary Andersen, resigned Oct. 9.
More than that, though, it’s a sign of how far Arizona has come in a year’s time. With Khalil Tate at quarterback and a talented batch of freshmen on defense, the Wildcats are a different team. A much better one.
“There’s a few games that were kind of redemption games for us,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We didn’t just get beat, we got beat bad. You’ve gotta deal with that for a whole year. I mentioned that a couple times this week. But they’ve been focused all year. I’ve been really pleased with how they’ve bounced back.”
Arizona’s revenge tour began in October with victories over Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. The Wildcats beat the Cougars by 21 points a year after losing to them by 62.
At 7-3, 5-2 in the Pac-12, Arizona has more than doubled its victory total from last season (three). The Wildcats finish up with two games on the road: at Oregon and Arizona State. With Tate at quarterback, no game seems unwinnable.
Tate toyed with the Beavers (1-9, 0-7). He rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yard sprint in the third quarter. Tate has a rush of at least 70 yards in five of the past six games. His lone mistake Saturday: an interception in the first quarter.
Other than the end of the half, when the Wildcats elected to let the clock run out, that was the only drive that didn’t end in a touchdown in the opening 30 minutes.
With Arizona up 28-0 at intermission, and Oregon State unable to stop the UA offense, the only real drama was whether the Wildcats would break the school rushing record. They did, finishing with 534 yards. Arizona eclipsed the mark of 511 set in last year’s Territorial Cup.
Fittingly, it was Brandon Dawkins who tied the record. Dawkins – who started at quarterback for most of last season and at the beginning of this one before getting hurt at Colorado – entered for Tate with 10:44 remaining and Arizona leading 42-21.
Dawkins engineered a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capping it with a 4-yard TD run that put the Wildcats at 511 yards. He rushed for a team-high 183 yards and two scores in last year’s win over Arizona State.
Fourth-string tailback Branden Leon broke the record with a 14-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
Like the ASU game, Arizona had three rushers top 100 yards. J.J. Taylor had 129 on 10 carries. Nick Wilson had 101 and a touchdown on 17 attempts.
Arizona did not attempt a pass in the second half against ASU. The Wildcats threw only once after halftime against the Beavers.
Arizona’s halftime shutout was a rare feat. It marked the first time the Wildcats had held an opponent scoreless in the first half since Aug. 30, 2013, against Northern Arizona. Arizona’s last first-half shutout in a Pac-12 game? Oct. 15, 2010, against Washington State.
Arizona took the ball first and marched 75 yards for a 7-0 lead. Per usual, Tate was heavily involved.
Tate helped the Wildcats convert a pair of third-and-8s. On the first one, he scrambled 22 yards for the first down. On the second, he connected with Tyrell Johnson for a 23-yard pass. Two plays later, Wilson plowed in from the 1.
The Wildcats appeared to be on their way to a second score, reaching the OSU 34-yard line. But Tate’s pass down the right sideline intended for Jamie Nunley was intercepted. Oregon State’s Shawn Wilson appeared to peel away from an underneath route to pick off Tate at the 5-yard line. It was Tate’s third interception in the past two games.
Arizona got the ball back and drove 85 yards in eight plays. Taylor’s 29-yard run advanced the ball to the OSU 11. Two plays later, Zach Green scored from the 4.
The Wildcats doubled their lead in the second quarter. If Tate’s 71-yard TD run was the game’s signature moment, his 19-yarder in the second was the runner-up.
First, Tate plowed through OSU safety David Morris. Fellow safety Jalen Moore got ahold of Tate’s jersey at about the 5, but Tate dragged him across the goal line. As he landed on his back in the end zone, Tate extended his right arm, pointing toward the sky.
Arizona’s season has a sky’s-the-limit feel to it right now. It’s exactly what the Wildcats’ senior class was hoping for coming off a 3-9 campaign.
Defensive tackle Parker Zellers wasn’t completely sure how his Senior Night would go. It’s safe to say the evening – like this season – exceeded his expectations.
“I’m expecting to have fun,” Zellers said earlier in the week. “I didn’t really think about it until Coach Rod talked about it on Sunday, put it in perspective. This’ll be the last time we’re doing this, doing our thing in this stadium. It’s just crazy thinking about all the stuff I’ve been through over the years.”
Zellers has experienced the highs and lows. He and his classmates are going out on a high note.