Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.
Worn out after 3 losses in row
Arizona's football traveling party arrived home from Oregon about 7 a.m., Saturday, delayed five hours by an airplane's mechanical problems. And then it learned there were no buses to transport them to McKale Center.
How could life be any worse for a college football team? Arizona has lost three consecutive games, fallen from national consciousness and, after being humbled on ESPN on Friday by No. 1 Oregon, lived its own Thanksgiving weekend "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" agony.
If Mike Stoops can put his team back together in time for Thursday's Territorial Cup game against Arizona State, he will be a motivational guru. The Wildcats appear to be spent. They can't run, they can't punt, they can't cover and they can't tackle. Did you see the 85-yard touchdown run by Oregon's Josh Huff that changed the game Friday? Six Wildcats had him surrounded. Whoosh. He was gone.
Worse, the UA has become undisciplined, committing 10 penalties against the Ducks and 24 during the losing streak.
Stoops talked about the fading "big picture" after Friday's game, but he also said "in the little picture, we want to beat Arizona State."
Beating the Sun Devils would change everything. Doesn't it always? It would give Arizona three consecutive eight-win seasons and put the Cats in a marquee-level bowl game in either San Diego or San Antonio. Much about the three-game losing steak would be forgiven and forgotten.
But you wonder how much this team has left. Quarterback Nick Foles could barely hobble when he left Autzen Stadium on Friday night. The leader of the offensive line, center Colin Baxter, his knee killing him, was held together at Oregon by nothing more than adrenaline. The team's emerging star, sophomore safety Adam Hall, was so sore and beat up he had difficulty lifting his equipment bag onto his shoulder.
By comparison, the Sun Devils are playing their best football in two years.
Arizona has lost just about everything but its dignity this month. So call this game The Dignity Bowl, not the Territorial Cup. If Arizona wins, it'll be an upset.
UA likely to benefit from change in bats
After completing a month of fall baseball competition, UA coach Andy Lopez knows two things - his team should be a contender for the College World Series and it won't set any home run records in 2011.
The composition of the sometimes-dangerous aluminum bats used in college baseball for 35 years has been modified.
"We hit four home runs the entire fall season," said Lopez. "Four! The bats have been changed so dramatically. It will change the game."
Here's proof: Lopez's two leading starting pitchers, Kurt Heyer and Kyle Simon, completed fall baseball with respective ERAs of 1.28 and 1.27. You haven't seen pitching numbers like that for decades.
"I think the games will be shorter now; there will be no more cheap home runs," said Lopez. "The ball sounds so much different coming off the bats. There's not the same pop. You don't even see home runs in batting practice."
Arizona is built for cleaner games. It has a defense-and-pitching team with seven returning position starters. It also added power-hitting third baseman/shortstop Andy Burns, a transfer from Kentucky who hit 18 homers with 63 RBIs in two seasons in the SEC.
"We think Andy will be eligible," said Lopez. "He really gives us some depth."
Tucsonan a key player on Nevada football team
Nevada's stirring upset over Boise State on Friday night was helped along by Tucsonan Malcolm Shepherd, who has emerged as the Wolf Pack's No. 3 receiver. The ex-Sahuaro High School basketball standout has caught 28 passes for 324 yards at Nevada during his senior season. He played at Pima College after leaving Sahuaro. … When Jeff Plush was a UA student, he was a manager for Dick Tomey's football team. Plush later got an internship working for the Fiesta Bowl staff in Tucson. Now he is a national champion. Plush is managing director of the Colorado Rapids, who last week won the 2010 championship of Major League Soccer. … Linebacker Ray Cottman, who played side by side with UA starting linebacker Jake Fischer on two very good Ironwood Ridge football teams, has accepted a scholarship to play for George O'Leary at Central Florida, Conference USA's East Division champion. Cottman declined scholarship offers from Minnesota and Utah State while playing for Glendale College. He will receive his JC degree in December and enroll at Central Florida in January. … Two more of Kelly and Lance Fowler's Desert Thunder softball players have accepted scholarships, moving the total to 45. Sahuaro's Morgan McKeever and Buena's Kaitlin Wilson, both juniors, have agreed to play at Miami (Ohio).
CDO will have hands full with Saguaro QB
Given running back Ka'Deem Carey's résumé, it might be difficult to believe, but when Dusty Peace's 13-0 Canyon del Oro Dorados meet 11-2 Scottsdale Saguaro for the 4A-I state football title Saturday afternoon, Saguaro might have the best player on the field. Senior quarterback Teddy Ruben had rushed for 2,172 yards and passed for 2,132 entering Friday's 42-13 semifinal playoff victory over Queen Creek. In an Oct. 1 game against CDO (the Dorados won 33-25), Ruben was sensational: he ran 29 times for 205 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 252 yards. … Carey has been dynamic in his two regular-season performances against Saguaro, rushing for 299 yards last year and 274 this season. … What makes CDO's 27-game winning streak so impressive is that so many players contributed at critical moments. In Friday's pulsating 28-24 semifinal victory over Cienega, Cooper Smith recovered on onside kick to make a comeback possible. Smith had made just six tackles all year. And the Dorados also got a 66-yard reception from Quintin Kime in a rousing fourth-quarter rally. Kime had caught just five passes all year. … CDO linebacker Blake Martinez had 15 tackles in the October win over Saguaro. The 6-foot-2-inch, 233-pound junior will be the most highly-recruited player in Southern Arizona next season, attracting interest from Pac-10 schools. … Peace doesn't appear to be carried away by his career record of 27-0. "Sometimes I think that (Amphi coach) Vern Friedli has won more than 300 games and realize I'd have to do this, at this rate, for another 25 years, just to get close," said Peace, 28. "I'm just so fortunate to be part of this CDO group. I know more than anybody how blessed I am."
Sambu takes similar path to success as Abdirahman
When UA junior Stephen Sambu finished No. 2 overall in the NCAA cross country championships last week, his story was reminiscent of ex-UA All-American Abdi Abdirahman. Sambu didn't start running until his junior year in high school, in Kenya. Abdirahman, who grew up in Somalia, didn't even run in high school; he began at Pima College and later finished No. 2 in the NCAA cross country finals before becoming a three-time U.S. Olympic 10,000-meter runner. Sambu won the 2008 and 2009 NJCAA cross country titles at Rend Lake College in Illinois and next fall could join Aaron Ramirez and Martin Keino as the UA's only NCAA cross country champs. Sambu has not been able to return to Kenya since 2008. … At the annual awards banquet for the PGA Southwest Section, Southern Chapter last week, former UA golfer Rick Price was honored as the 2010 Professional of the Year. John Basden of Ventana Canyon was named Teacher of the Year and Brent Newcomb of the Stone Canyon Club was selected Junior Golf Leader of the Year. Skyline County Club's Chris Dompier, who had a scoring average of 70.3 this year, was the Willie Kane Player of the Year. … PGA, LPGA and Nationwide tour champions Don Pooley, Dan Pohl, Cindy Rarick, Christa Johnson and Rich Barcelo will be part of the Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Benefit on Dec. 11 at Tubac Golf Resort, a clinic/golf outing benefiting junior golf in Southern Arizona. For entry information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. … Former CDO golfer Jeff Rudi, who played in the U.S. Senior Amateur this year, won the Tucson City Senior Amateur last week. Rudi had rounds of 70-70, edging runner-up John Ferenchak by two shots.
MY TWO CENTS
Undefeated seasons for Tucson football teams highly rare
Over the last 40 years, Tucson's list of undefeated high school football teams is a short and impressive one.
Tucson was 12-0 in 1970. Palo Verde was 13-0 in 1973. Flowing Wells was 10-0 in 1975. CDO was 11-0 in 1976. Amphi was 13-0 in 1979. Nobody did it in the 1980s.
Wayne Jones coached an epic Mountain View team (14-0) in 1993, and Sabino's Jeff Scurran became the only man of the last 40 years to coach two perfect clubs: 14-0 in 1990 and 14-0 again in 1992.
Until CDO came along last year, 14-0 state champs, Tucson had not produced an undefeated team for 15 years. Now CDO is 13-0, bidding for a second consecutive 14-0 state title.
The longest winning streak in Tucson prep football history, all-time, is 32, set by Tucson High from 1942 to 1946. Given the enormous growth and expansion of high school football in this state the last 60 years, this CDO streak, 27 and counting, has been much more difficult.