FOOTBALL

Arizona football: Unlikely stars, crucial breaks help Cats win

2012-12-17T00:00:00Z 2012-12-17T14:38:37Z Arizona football: Unlikely stars, crucial breaks help Cats winRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 17, 2012 12:00 am  • 

ALBUQUERQUE - Moments after the Arizona Wildcats took a one-point lead over Nevada in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl, center Kyle Quinn walked to his customary spot on the bench, threw a towel over his head and tried to breathe.

Sobs came out instead.

"I tried to figure out what was going on," Quinn said.

Saturday's 49-48 come-from-behind win over Nevada defied description, much less logic. The Wildcats overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win their first bowl game since 2008. Quarterback Matt Scott led the UA on two scoring drives in the final 1 minute 48 seconds to pull off the win; sandwiched between two touchdown drives was a perfect onside kick and a fortunate recovery.

Saturday's win was about more than just the dramatic finish. Three plays broke the Wildcats' way in the final 2 minutes, keeping their ever-so-slim chances of an upset alive.

Here's a look at the scenarios - and unlikely stars - that kept the UA (8-5) in the game:

The defense (finally) makes a stop

• The setup: Nevada was facing third-and-six from Arizona's 7-yard line late in Saturday's fourth quarter when coach Chris Ault called a run up the middle. The Wolf Pack led 45-35, and needed simply to get a first down - or score a touchdown - to ice a game that already seemed well in hand.

• What happened: UA freshman linebacker C.J. Dozier, who led the team with 15 tackles, stuffed running back Nick Hale for no gain, bringing up fourth-and-six from the UA's 7-yard line.

• What it meant: The Wolf Pack was forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal, keeping the Wildcats within two touchdowns of the lead. Even then, an upset seemed unlikely: Nevada led the UA 48-35 with 1:48 remaining, and Arizona was out of timeouts.

Wharton's save

• The setup: Arizona trailed by 13 points as Scott and the Wildcats took over at their own 25-yard line. The first play of the drive was a swing pass from Scott to Ka'Deem Carey; Nevada's Jay Richardson jarred the ball loose, forcing a fumble.

• What happened: UA receiver Garic Wharton scooped up the fumble at the 22-yard line, ran 10 yards down the sideline and - in the heads-up play of the year - stepped out of bounds.

• What it meant: Wharton's scoop kept Arizona from turning the ball over, and his decision to run out of bounds saved precious seconds. Had Wharton simply fallen on the ball, the clock would have kept running and Arizona's chances of winning would have shrunk further. Buoyed by Wharton's play, Scott and the Wildcats drove and scored, cutting Nevada's lead to six points.

Bonano's PAT

• The setup: Tyler Slavin caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Scott with 19 seconds remaining, tying the game at 48. The UA sent John Bonano out for the go-ahead PAT. Nevada coach Chris Ault called a timeout to "ice" the Wildcats' fifth-year senior.

• What happened: Bonano took a deep breath, collected himself and hit the game-winner. Bonano said he tried not to think about the stakes too much.

"I had done it 100 times. I'm used to the pressure by now, senior season," he said. "I'm glad it came down to that."

In fact, Bonano said, the timeout may have helped.

"It didn't faze me at all," the kicker said.

• What it meant: The Wildcats' improbable victory made for great television and brought some much-needed attention to a program - and players - that have flown under the radar all season. Quinn said it meant more than that: The electrifying rally reinforced that, no matter how bleak things seem, there's always hope.

Asked if he ever thought the team would lose, Quinn shook his head no.

"We honestly kept fighting. 'Coach Rod' (Rich Rodriguez) has installed that in us since spring ball," he said. "Until are there are zeros on that clock, you do not give up, at all. You have to keep fighting, keep scratching and clawing."

On StarNet: See more photos from UA's comeback win over Nevada at azstarnet.com/gallery

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