SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Khalil Tate threw five touchdown passes — the most ever by an Arizona Wildcat in a bowl game.
It wasn’t enough.
Despite Tate’s career night, Arizona lost to Purdue 38-35 in the Foster Farms Bowl in front of an announced crowd of 28,436 at Levi’s Stadium.
The defeat ended a once-promising season on a down note. The Wildcats, who were 6-2 at the end of October, lost four of their last five to finish 7-6. The Boilermakers won four off their last five to end with the same record.
“I know our guys are disappointed and hanging their heads a little bit,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I’m proud of the way we competed. I’m proud of the way those guys battled. As I told the team, they made one more play than we did to win it.”
Arizona trailed 31-14 at halftime, took a 35-31 lead with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter and gave up the winning touchdown with 1:44 to go.
What was expected to be a ground battle turned into a shootout between two gunslinging quarterbacks. Tate completed 17 of 26 passes for a career-high 302 yards. Counterpart Elijah Sindelar one-upped him, completing 33 of 53 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns — including the game-winner.
Arizona’s defense, which had shut out Purdue for the entire second half, finally relented in the final minutes.
After Tate’s fifth TD pass gave the Wildcats their first lead since the first quarter, the Boilermakers drove 75 yards in eight plays. First, Sindelar connected with D.J. Knox for a 21-yard pass on third-and-10. On the next play, Sindelar nearly threw an interception.
Trevor Wood, a converted tight end making his first career start at defensive end, dropped into coverage. He leaped for Sindelar’s pass to the left side, got two hands on it but couldn’t come down with it.
Two plays later, again on third-and-10, Sindelar lofted a pass down the left sideline. Lorenzo Burns had tight coverage on Anthony Mahoungou. But Mahoungou outfought Burns for the ball, tumbling into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 1:44 remaining.
The Wildcats still had two timeouts, and they had Tate. On first and second down, he couldn’t find anyone open and threw the ball away. On third down, he again had to scramble. Tate spotted Shun Brown down the field but overthrew him. Purdue safety Jacob Thieneman snared the put-away interception.
Arizona’s comeback began with a stop by its defense, which had struggled in the first half, allowing 31 points and 371 yards. Jace Whittaker, who surrendered two touchdowns in the first half, and Dane Cruikshank broke up passes, forcing a 46-yard field goal-attempt. J.D. Dellinger’s kick came up short.
Tate converted a third-and-7 with a 13-yard pass to Shawn Poindexter, and a pass-interference penalty gave Arizona another first down on third-and-5. Three plays later, Tate hit a streaking Tony Ellison in stride for a 40-yard touchdown to trim the Wildcats’ deficit to 31-21.
Whittaker and Cruickshank easily could have intercepted the balls they knocked down. Scottie Young Jr. didn’t make the same mistake on the next Purdue possession, cradling a deflected pass for his first career pick.
Four plays later, Tate connected with Tyrell Johnson for another 40-yard score. Just like that, it was a three-point game.
The touchdown came with 6:31 left in the third quarter. The score remained 31-28 until Tate's final touchdown pass, a 24-yarder to Shun Brown.
The second quarter was reminiscent of the third quarter against Arizona State — a complete calamity.
The Wildcats entered the period tied 14-14. The exited it trailing 31-14.
The quarter started promisingly, with Arizona forcing Purdue to punt. But tailback J.J. Taylor, a newcomer to the punt-return team, nudged Boilermakers punter Joe Schopper, drawing a flag and extending the drive. The Boilermakers capitalized, as Sindelar found Gregory Phillips for a 22-yard touchdown.
Purdue scored again on in its next possession on a 13-yard run by D.J. Knox. That made it 28-14 with 4:11 left in the half.
Even when they appeared to have something going, the Wildcats were their own worst enemies. They advanced to the Purdue 32-yard line with less than a minute left, but Tate fumbled at the end of a 15-yard run. The officials didn’t see it initially, but Purdue called timeout to allow time for a review and reversal.
The Boilermakers took over with 56 seconds left and appeared content to run out the clock. But Coach Jeff Brohm dialed up a fake kneel-down that resulted in a 30-yard gain for Knox. The drive ended with Spencer Evans’ 26-yard field goal, bumping Purdue’s lead to 17 points.
Rodriguez and linebacker Tony Fields II said the officials told Arizona that it was going to be a kneel-down – which meant the Wildcats were supposed to ease up.
“They told our guys they’re taking a knee, don’t rush,” Rodriguez said. “So they complied with that. And they ran a little tricky play.
“My argument would be if it’s an official’s error, which in my opinion it was, then it’s a no play. Maybe I don’t know the rules. That’s my opinion. That’s what the argument was.”
Arizona overcame a sluggish start, turning an early 7-0 deficit into a 14-7 lead. With Purdue’s defense gearing up to stop the run, Tate beat them with his arm.
First, Tate found Poindexter running free for a 31-yard score. A well-executed play fake sucked in the secondary, leaving Poindexter uncovered up the right seam.
After Arizona’s DeAndre’ Miller — subbing for the injured Kylan Wilborn — stuffed Markell Jones for no gain on fourth-and-1, the Wildcats took possession at the Purdue 34-yard line.
Three plays later, Tate lofted a perfect pass to Tony Ellison, who was one-on-one with safety Navon Mosley.
Purdue tied it on Sindelar’s 42-yard pass to Phillips with 2:22 left in the quarter.
“It’s very frustrating,” Fields said. “We were right there. We’re that close.”