Cats win to open Mackovic era

SAN DIEGO--The John Mackovic Era got off to a winning start as the Wildcats overcame a ten point deficit to beat the San Diego State Aztecs 23-10. Arizona had scores from all facets of the game - offense, defense and special teams in the victory.

It was a strange game, with a number of bizarre plays. There were blocked punts, errant snaps, defensive touchdowns, strange calls and lots of drama.

Like all Arizona teams there were big plays on special teams and a defense that came to play. However, there was also an Arizona quarterback with thirty-two passing attempts, aggressive play calling and an offense that utilized eight receivers, including a tight end.

"We won and we are happy, but we're never satisfied," Mackovic said.

Jason Johnson made his Wildcat debut as the starting quarterback. Johnson completed 21 of 32 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown, and most importantly did not make costly mistakes.

"It was a lot of fun," Johnson said. "I have great players around me. My receivers and line played great tonight. It just feels great, especially for Coach Mackovic's first game. We just wanted to play well for him."

"I think our guys were a little nervous, a little edgy," Mackovic said. "They were pumped up a lot, maybe too pumped up."

The much anticipated first drive of the John Mackovic era was a bit of a letdown for many in attendance. A Clarence Farmer off-tackle run for four yards ended weeks of speculation by Wildcat fans. There was no trick play, no long bomb, not even a pass to the tight end. Just a simple, effective handoff. The rest of the drive wasn't as effective. A holding penalty called back a long completion. Then Johnson hit Bobby Wade for no gain. On third down Johnson looked deep to the sideline, only to have the receiver run a post to the middle. The first series ended up as a three and out.

Then things got weird.

After the Wildcat's punted, the Aztecs went on a prolonged drive milking the clock and running their ball-control offense to near perfection. The Aztecs went 44 yards on 15 plays, converting three third downs and one fourth down in a 6:21 drive that resulted in a Tommy Kirovski fieldgoal.

The Cats moved the ball much more effectively on their second possession, getting to their own 44-yard line on four plays. Then the night's first weird play occurred.

Johnson fired a strike that was intercepted by Garret Pavleko after a deflection. Pavleko fumbled the ball after running for three yards and Clarence Farmer recovered, leaving the Wildcats in possession.

After a borderline pass interference no-call on a deep ball and an offensive pass interference on a long gain, the Wildcats found themselves punting on fourth and 18. The snap sailed over punter Ramey Peru's head, rolling back to the 1-yard line. Peru tried to pick up a safety by kicking the ball out of the endzone. However Peru was in play when he kicked the ball, drawing a penalty that gave the Aztecs possession inside the Wildcat one-yard line.

Larry Ned's one-yard score on the next play gave the Aztec's a 10-0 lead.

The Wildcats used special teams to get onto the scoreboard.

A bobbled Aztec snap allowed Andrae Thurman the time to block a punt through the back of the endzone garnering the Wildcats a safety and their first points of the Mackovic Era.

"That was a key play for us," Mackovic said. "It gave us some momentum."

On the Wildcat's next possession, Clarence Farmer capped an eight-play, 66-yard drive with a 12-yard touch down run. The drive was kept alive when a defensive delay of game penalty allowed the Wildcats to bypass a fieldgoal attempt and convert a fourth and short.

Not to be outdone, the UA defense got on the board. Safety Brandon Nash scooped up a Ned fumble and sprinted 57-yards for the touchdown.

"Our defense played awesome tonight and that allowed the offense some luxuries," Johnson said.

The second half featured far less oddness and scoring.

Bobby Wade had a highlight reel return to set up the Wildcat's lone touchdown. Wade allowed the punt to bounce and roll to the 11 before scooping it up and scrambling 58 yards to the Aztec 31. Farmer broke off a 27-yard carry and Johnson hit an uncovered Andrae Thurman for the score.

The defense held the rest of the way, limiting the Aztecs to only 116 yards in the second half, 43 of which came on the Aztec's final drive of the game.

Farmer led the Arizona rushing attack picking up 90-yards on 21 carries.

"Our offense is built on balance," Mackovic said. "We tried to get Clarence 100-yards."


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