A crucial turnover proved disastrous for Arizona in its Pac-10 opener and helped Washington State escape with a 20-19 victory in a game marked by a total of nine fumbles and other loose balls, two of them lost balls by the Wildcats.
Arizona recovered four of WSU’s five fumbles in the game, and cashed in on two of them ?- with 10 points. The Cats’ final mistake turned the game.
Leading 19-14, Arizona got a defensive stop and took possession of the ball on its own 17 yard-line with 2:49 left in the game. A first down moved the ball out the 31, but on the next play, Pat Bennett hit Gilbert Harris hard on a running play up the middle and the ball flew into the air, grabbed by WSU’s Husain Abdullah. He, too, fumbled, and Scott Davis returned the ball for an apparent touchdown, but the officials ruled Abdullah down on the play at the UA 28 yard-line.
Nonetheless it gave the Cougars the ball and a short field. With 1:19 left on the clock, WSU quarterback Josh Swogger completed a pass to Michael Bumpus for 13 yards, then an incompletion later hit Jason Hill for a 15-yard touchdown play to give the Cougars the lead for good. WSU tried a two-point conversion, but it failed.
“This was obviously a tough loss. We came up with a couple great plays but we couldn’t finish it in the end. It’s part of the game but it hurts a lot when you think you have it won, but it is never over. We’ll just have to keep moving forward,” Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said.
“This was a frustrating loss. A lot of things were happening at the end of the game that didn't go our way. We were fairly inept in the first half but we did come back in the second half with better pressure," Stoops said.
Washington State drove 80 yards on 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first quarter, paced by some key passes by Swogger and 22 rushing yards by Jerome Harrison, who slipped in from the 2 yard-line for the score.
Arizona, which had a total of nine yards on three first-quarter possessions, struck quickly after a key defensive play at the 12:28 mark in the second quarter. UA tackle Carlos Williams stripped the ball from WSU running back Chris Bruhn for a four-yard loss, and recovered the ball to give UA possession at the WSU 47 yard-line.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Kris Heavner evaded a rush and threw deep to Syndric Steptoe, who leaped over the coverage to snag the ball on the WSU 3 yard-line and drag cornerback Karl Paymuh into the end zone for a touchdown. Nick Folk’s kick tied it at 7 apiece.
UA took a 10-7 lead with a successful drive to open the third quarter, taking the ball 74 yards in 17 plays. Folk knocked home a 23-yard field goal for the score after WSU’s defense stiffened and held UA after a pass interference penalty gave the Cats’ 1st-and-goal at the 2 yard-line.
Another defensive play set up a quick score moments later. Linebacker Sean Jones jarred the ball loose from running back Jerome Harrison on WSU’s next play and Lamon Means recovered the ball for UA. Again the Cougars held, sacking Heavner on third down, but Folk came through with a 37-yard field goal to make it 13-7.
Swogger put the Cougars on top, 14-13, two minutes into the fourth period, completing a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jason Hill.
Kyle Basler hit an 87-yard punt with 7:00 remaining to change field position after UA held WSU for a three-and-out, causing the Cats to start a possession at their own 20 yard-line.
But Arizona was up to the task, using 3:08 and seven plays to take the lead, capped by Heavner’s 23-yard scoring pass on a fade to Steptoe in the right corner of the end zone to make it 19-14. UA went for a two-point conversion, but running back Mike Bell was stopped short.
UA’s defense held the Cougars to a net of 28 rushing yards, thanks to bad snaps and lost yardage on some of the fumbles. WSU’s Swogger, though, completed 18 passes in 37 attempts for 282 yards. UA’s Heavner finished with 15 completions in 31 attempts for 183 yards and the two scores to Steptoe. The Cats’ rushing attack was held to 80 yards on 41 carries, an average of two yards per play.
Steptoe had a career-high six catches for 105 yards. Arizona free safety Darrell led both teams with 11 tackles including two for losses, while linebacker Sean Jones had a career-high 10 tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
UA, 1-3, gets a week off before traveling to UCLA on Oct. 9. The Cougars, 3-1, also have a bye before an Oct. 9 game at home against Oregon.