John Bonano did more than win a game when he hit two PATs and one onside kick in the final minute of Saturday's New Mexico Bowl.
He may have finally snapped a UA curse.
Bonano and punter Kyle Dugandzic booted away the Arizona Wildcats' reputation for kicking struggles in 2012, a season capped by last week's 49-48 come-from-behind win over Nevada.
The Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the game's final minute. Bonano's perfectly placed onside kick made the final drive possible.
Matt Scott's touchdown pass to Tyler Slavin tied the game with 19 seconds remaining; that brought out Bonano, who won it with a point-after.
"I'm just glad it came down to that," Bonano said. "I gave the team an opportunity to win, and I did my job."
Bonano connected on 14 of 20 field goal attempts and hit 58 of 59 PAT kicks as Arizona posted an 8-5 season. Dugandzic, another senior, ranks fifth in the Pac-12 heading into the bulk of the bowl season.
Still, Rich Rodriguez said he thought the special teams "were just OK" in his first year as coach. Rodriguez implemented a coaching-by-committee approach with special teams, deputizing assistants Spencer Leftwich and Tony Gibson to handle much of them. The head coach - and the rest of the assistants - contributed on a daily basis.
"Our kickers and punters both performed pretty well, for the most part," Rodriguez said. "Some of our coverage and return units weren't nearly as good as I would have liked them to be. Some of that's attributed to the inexperience and guys playing before they were ready."
Indeed, Arizona had its special teams struggles this season - though nothing on par with the soul-crushing struggles that hastened the end of the Mike Stoops era.
Bonano missed a 25-yard field that would have given the Wildcats a Week 1 win over Toledo in regulation; the game went overtime, and the UA prevailed anyway. Daniel Jenkins and Jared Baker both muffed punts in the New Mexico Bowl; Nevada recovered Baker's fumble and, one play later, scored a touchdown.
During the 11 games in between, however, the Wildcats fared well on special teams. Richard Morrison returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown in Arizona's 52-17 win over Washington. Bonano missed a PAT attempt against Arizona State but made up for it with a two-point conversion on a fake. Bonano, Dugandzic and Morrison all earned Pac-12 special teams Player of the Week honors during the regular season.
The problem: Two of the three will be gone next season.
Syracuse and Youngstown State transfer Jake Smith figures to inherit Bonano's job, and a handful of hopefuls will compete for the punter's spot.
Expect Rodriguez and his assistants to revamp the return team starting in 2013. The Wildcats "couldn't get it across the street" this season, much less past midfield, Rodriguez said.
"There were times when we were hoping they would just kick it into the end zone," he said.
Baker will be back for another season, and J.T. Washington - a speedster who redshirted this fall - could join him on either kickoff returns or punt returns. Like many elements of the Wildcats' game, special teams should only improve as the inexperienced players on each unit mature.
And with Leftwich leaving, it's possible that Arizona could have yet another voice contributing to the special teams mix.
"We're always going to have multiple coaches involved in it," Rodriguez said. "One guy is coordinator, so to speak, but I'm always involved."
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Wildcats lose assistant coach Leftwich, promote Ragle
The Arizona Wildcats named Charlie Ragle their new tight ends coach Thursday after Spencer Leftwich announced his departure.
Ragle spent the 2012 season as Arizona's assistant director of operations; before that, he was a successful coach at Scottsdale Chaparral High School. Ragle's teams went 63-7 and won three state championships during his five years in charge.
It's the first collegiate on-field coaching job for Ragle, who served as a graduate assistant at Arizona State in 2006.
Leftwich is leaving for "a position within the Division I coaching ranks," according to a UA release. He is expected to join UTEP's coaching staff. Leftwich is a Texas native; his son, Mack, is one of the Miners' top incoming freshmen. The Leftwiches know new UTEP coach Sean Kugler from mutual time spent in Pennsylvania. Spencer Leftwich coached at Pitt in 2011; Kugler was the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line coach.
Leftwich said in a release that he's "so grateful and appreciative to Rich Rodriguez for giving me the opportunity to work with him and our staff at Arizona."
"This is an opportunity to get my whole family together that I couldn't pass up," he said.
Leftwich coached in the Lone Star State from 1989 to 1991, 1994 to 2002 and 2007 to 2009. Leftwich joined the UA last fall from Pitt, where he worked for one season alongside current UA aides Tony Dews, Tony Gibson and Calvin Magee.
To replace Ragle, the UA promoted Billy Kirelawich to assistant director of operations. Kirelawich, the son of defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich, served in an administrative role this fall.
2012 in review
Today's story is the first in a three-day review of the 2012 season.
• Today: Special teams
• Saturday: Defense
• Sunday: Offense