BERKELEY, Calif. — Scooby Wright grew up about an hour north of Cal’s Memorial Stadium in Santa Rosa.
In all those years, he went to just one Golden Bears game.
“I grew up kinda not liking Cal,” Wright said laughing. “I don’t really know why, but I just never did.”
Wright played like a guy Saturday in the UA’s 33-28 win who didn’t like the opposition. He finished with a team-high 11 tackles, including three for a loss. And the linebacker, who leads the team with 60 tackles in eight games, wasn’t the only true freshman to have a big game Saturday.
On the other side of the ball, freshmen Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips combined for 13 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Grant had a career-high nine catches for 78 yards, and Phillips caught a touchdown pass for the fourth straight game.
“We’ve got some true freshmen that are studs, and that’s recruiting and a credit to those guys,” quarterback B.J. Denker said. “They’ve come in a Pac-12 program, and they didn’t expect to redshirt. They came in hungry and ready to make plays.”
On Saturday, they made a lot of them.
On Arizona’s first drive, Denker found Grant for a 12-yard gain on a second-and-10. One play later, Denker scored on a 9-yard rush to even the score up at seven.
Grant also had a 17-yard catch two drives later and by halftime had seven catches for 61 yards.
Phillips made his biggest play in the second quarter. The Chandler native lined up in the slot on a first-and-10 from Cal’s 21-yard line and ran a route down to inside the 10. He stopped, turned, caught a bullet from Denker and scampered past a defender for a 21-yard touchdown.
He has become one of Denker’s favorite targets near the end zone, catching four of Denker’s nine touchdowns on the season.
“Honestly, it’s not easy to come in and be able to make the impact we have,” Grant said. “But Scooby, Nate and I and a couple of the other freshmen really trained extra hard. We weren’t given this opportunity, but we worked for it, and it feels good to be getting these chances.”
Wright’s biggest play came in the first quarter.
He teamed up with safety Jared Tevis to force a safety when they tackled running back Darren Ervin in the end zone. He now has 7½ tackles-for-loss on the season, more than two better than the next-best on the team.
“This guy was playing high school football eight months ago, and now he’s making huge plays for us on the road in a league game,” Denker said after the game, pointing to Wright. “His first week here, he broke a team squat record as a true freshman. Credit to Scooby, credit to the freshmen, credit to the coaches for knowing they can play here.”
What’s the best news for Arizona fans?
“This past freshman class was pretty good; the next one is even better,” coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Junior Trevor Ermisch, one of Arizona’s top performers on special teams, was injured on the opening kickoff. Ermisch, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship before the season, was helped off the field by trainers and didn’t put any weight on his right leg.
Rodriguez wasn’t optimistic after the game.
“Preliminary-wise, it doesn’t look good for him from a ligament standpoint,” Rodriguez said after the game.
The coach should have more information on the Phoenix product when he holds his weekly news conference Monday.
Senior linebacker Jake Fischer, who was probable with a knee injury, didn’t play.
The coach thought Fischer would be able to go, but when he warmed up, the senior’s knee didn’t cooperate.
“I’m hoping and anticipating he’ll be back this week,” the coach said of Fischer.
Tevis, who missed the last two games with a knee injury of his own, played the entire game. He finished with eight tackles and a forced fumble.
Tra’Mayne Bondurant, who missed the Colorado game with a concussion, also returned. He had seven tackles and a pass breakup.
Special teams success
Kicker Jake Smith connected on a 53-yard field goal early in the second quarter to mark a new career long. His previous long was a 41-yarder earlier this season.
The 53-yard make marked the longest by a UA kicker since Nick Folk also hit from 53 yards out in 2004.
Smith attempted a 55-yard field goal right before halftime and came up just short. The senior is now
9 for 13 on the season.
He was perfect on extra points and averaged 58.8 yards on six kickoffs.
Punter Drew Riggleman also had one of his better games. The Sahuaro High School product averaged 41.4 yards on eight punts, including a long of 56 yards. He landed four inside the 20-yard line.