The crowd grew as the game went on, maybe 3,000 more in the first quarter, another 5,000 by the time Arizona led 28-9 at half.
The sun came out. The Wildcats shone.
Another thousand or two squeezed in during the second half. Everybody wanted a piece of the Wildcats, who got all of the Ducks.
“We only scanned 3,500 Zona Zoo tickets,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said, watching the final seconds tick off the clock. “But there are at least 7,000 over there now.”
A moment later, engulfed by people in red gear and happy faces, Byrne disappeared into the crowd.
Arizona beat the Ducks 42-16, beat ’em up and shook ’em up.
“We had magic out there,” said UA tailback Ka’Deem Carey.
It doesn’t take magic to beat Oregon, but it takes an almost flawless game if you are in Year 2 of the Rich Rodriguez reconstruction project. On Saturday, Arizona played a perfect game. It was like a golfer shooting 59 or an Olympic gymnast getting a 10.0 in the floor exercise.
Oregon was a 20-point favorite, the widest spread for a visiting team at Arizona Stadium in a decade, since No. 2 USC was a 28-point pick in 2003. I didn’t hear a soul all week, no one, say it was too much.
“Our defense held them to 16 points,” said UA quarterback B.J. Denker. “And they average 56?”
Denker played the game of his life, matching those played by any quarterback in school history. He completed 19 of 22 passes. He ran for 102 yards. He was a combination of Doug Flutie and John Elway, operating on the theory that if you score every time you get the ball, not even Oregon can beat you.
“I never played a better-feeling game,” he said.
Arizona scored the first three times it touched the ball, leading 21-3. Denker completed 11 of his first 12 throws. He even punted once. The ball stopped at Oregon’s 4.
Nobody was going to beat Arizona on Saturday afternoon.
In the aftermath, after he couldn’t locate his wife, Rita, among the thousands of celebrants who rushed the field, RichRod thought more about the future than the past. He was almost immediately hooked up to a skype feed, to a blue-chip recruit, asking him to join the fun next year.
“We’re not even close to where we’re going to be in the future,” the coach said.
The healing powers of college football are fascinating. A year ago RichRod sat on a stool outside Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, a 49-0 loser, and said, “I’m embarrassed.”
On Saturday he was asked if beating the No. 5 Ducks was among the great wins in Arizona history.
RichRod didn’t try to rank it; “If you beat the
No. 5 team at home on Senior Day, it’s pretty special,” he said — and that’s the
best thing to say. It will
take some time to determine where Saturday’s victory fits, or if it joins a 1980 home shocker over No. 2 UCLA or 1992’s compelling upset over No. 1 Washington.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had a sharp perspective on the day’s events. “I have never been blown out like this before in my life,” he said.
Indeed, the Ducks hadn’t lost to an off-the-grid team since 2006, when a 6-6 Washington State squad beat them. At Oregon, a loss means Stanford or USC or somewhere in a BCS bowl game.
It puts Arizona in a company it longed to join.
Early Saturday morning, in a rare November rainstorm, Byrne and his staff tried to rally a fan base spoiled by autumn sunshine. The UA staff assembled 4,000 Ziplock ponchos and dispatched emails and Twitter messages to their constituency. Come to Arizona Stadium. Get a free poncho.
By kickoff there were probably 25,000 people, at most, in the stadium. When the Wildcats took a knee 3 hours and 4 minutes later, killing the clock, there were almost 40,000 in the house.
They witnessed an improbable knockout.
The Ducks couldn’t deal with Ka’Boom, who ran a school-record 48 times, into double and triple coverage. It was too much for the Ducks. Based on available space at scrimmage, a normal tailback might have gained 80 yards on those 48 carries.
Carey was more like the K&D Locomotive, clearing the tracks.
“Going out there and running somebody over is going to spark somebody up,” said Carey, smiling broadly.
“They didn’t want to tackle it all day.”
Nothing is ever going to make up for the hurt of the 2009 Oregon-Arizona game, a 44-41 double-overtime classic won by the Ducks on the same field, a game that, if won, might have sent Arizona into the Rose Bowl.
Deep into that November evening, Oregon benefactor Phil Knight, the genius behind the Nike empire, caught the press box elevator to the field and stood on the Ducks sideline, pumping his fist during the wild scene.
On Saturday afternoon, Knight remained in his suite at Arizona Stadium. It was no longer his party.