Greg Hansen: With another final push, 'redemption' arrives for Arizona

2010-09-28T14:00:00Z 2014-10-29T08:56:23Z Greg Hansen: With another final push, 'redemption' arrives for ArizonaGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 28, 2010 2:00 pm  • 

How much did life change after Arizona beat Iowa and jumped to No. 14 in the nation? As God is my witness, some goof started a "Nick Foles for Heisman" campaign.

The craziness spread: A radio voice from Los Angeles asked Foles if he planned to abandon Arizona and jump to the NFL a year early. Others projected Arizona for berths in the Orange, Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Super bowls.

But in a development that didn't take Nostradamus to predict, the Wildcats were bowled over Saturday night. Their sudden glory faded and for 58 minutes nobody did much of nuthin'. Arizona didn't get any closer to a touchdown than Cal's 13-yard line.

The atmosphere at Arizona Stadium was like "who died?"

And then, out of nowhere, Sunshine Foles threw a 51-yard pass, a Hail Mary, really, into glove-type coverage, and Juron Criner caught it. About 12,000 of the 51,906 who paid to watch the game had by then exited the stadium, grousing about "another UA choke job."

"Absolutely, unbelievably disappointed," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "Just absolutely, unbelievably disappointed."

Now he knows how Mike Stoops felt last year against Cal, Washington and the Oregon Ducks.

The capacity for renewal in a football game, and a football season, often comes when least expected.

"The good Lord was looking out for us tonight, for whatever reason," said Stoops.

Could it be that the football gods owed the UA as much, especially after 25 years of nutty losses to the Cal Bears? Whatever, Saturday's 10-9 victory squared the debt.

At game's end, Stoops raised his arms aloft, did a 360 while standing on the field, smiling broadly as if to ask those who stayed to the surprising end "do you believe that?"

Yes. We do.

Almost without exception, every Top 25 college football team pulls off a great escape during a 12-game season. There are too many close games and too many good teams to simply win out and stifle a yawn.

Oregon beat Arizona in a classic escape 44-41, double overtime, last year when a late field goal bounced off the crossbar at Arizona Stadium and went through. The Ducks went to the Rose Bowl instead of Arizona.

On Saturday night, Cal's Giorgio Tavecchio bounced a field-goal attempt off the upright in the third quarter. What's that? Six inches and the Bears win even though they never got inside Arizona's 5-yard line.

"We're spent, I think, in a lot of ways," said Stoops. "And our fans are spent."

You can exhaust yourself checking microfilm files and computer chips for the last time Arizona won two games in two weeks with last-drive-wins-it finishes. Maybe it happened in the Button Salmon days and maybe Jim Young or Jim LaRue did it a time or two, but it is as rare as a snowstorm in Gila Bend.

The Pac-10 is so good that it is essentially an elimination race from Week 1. You don't need to win so much as the other guy needs to lose. The road ahead, eight more games, includes visits to Stanford, UCLA and Oregon. How many of those do you think Arizona can win?

One? None?

That's why Criner's improbable catch had such value. Given that he came into the game with a painful turf toe injury, which sometimes hobbles a football player for months, given that he was noticeably lacking in separation speed for 58 minutes, it was amazing that Criner could find a final burst of speed to beat anyone deep.

"The pain didn't really bother me because I had a lot of adrenaline going," he said.

To its credit, unwilling to fall into the trap of instant celebrity and great expectations that bedeviled its fans, Arizona's players and coaches kept their mouths shut all week. They redoubled their efforts and prepared for Cal as though the Bears had not lost 52-31 to Nevada last week.

It was a good try, but the spirit wasn't as willing as their good intentions.

"You always worry about (being flat), you just do," said Stoops. "It didn't feel the same coming into the stadium and it didn't feel the same in the stadium."

Arizona's bid to become a charismatic figure in college football, a fresh and exciting newcomer to the Top 25, is thus extended. Style points don't count unless you're Boise State or TCU.

UA co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell punched up 65 plays Saturday night and he tried everything: long, short, streaks, curls, screens, slants. For 58 minutes, almost none of it worked.

Finally, on play No. 61 with the clock at 2:09 and ticking, Littrell hit the lottery: Foles to Criner, all or nothing.

A few minutes later, Foles removed his helmet and walked the length of the Zona Zoo restraining wall, slapping hands with dozens of celebrating fans. It was a victory lap.

The prince had not become a frog. The prince is still a prince.

"There is redemption," Stoops said. "And we got ours tonight."

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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