Cats hold on to vanquish the Vandals

The Wildcats started slowly, built a big lead and then held on to beat the Idaho Vandals 36-29 before 44,250 hometown Wildcat fans. The game marked the 2001 home opener for the Cats and was John Mackovic's Tucson head coaching debut.

Arizona led 36-7, before giving up 22 fourth quarter points to the Vandals who refused to quit.

"To their credit they didn't pack it in," Mackovic said. "I give them a lot of credit."

Arizona only led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, but they wound up gaining 491 total yards of total offense during the rout.

Arizona went for it all on the first play. Jason Johnson threw a deep strike to Brandon Marshall, who was interfered with and could not make the catch.

"I didn't even see the safety until the last minute," Marshall said. "When I turned around I knew it was pass interference. When I came back to the huddle I was like ‘it's there.'"

After the penalty the Cats moved the ball effectively, gaining 38 yards, all of it on the ground. Johnson showed his mobility gaining 15 yards after being flushed from the pocket. Clarence Farmer had several nice runs including a 13 yarder where he broke four Vandal tackles. The drive stalled on two incomplete passes and Sean Keel got Arizona on the boards with a 44-yard field goal

. Towards the end of the first quarter the Cats again drove into Idaho territory. Johnson used three big passes to lead the offense from the Arizona 12 yard line to the Vandal 27. The Cats came up three yards short on third and long and Keel missed wide left on a 43 yard field goal attempt.

After a quarter of play the highly favored Wildcats led only 3-0, despite gaining 113 yards on offense.

"I felt pretty good," Johnson said "I felt comfortable out there." On third and nine the Cats came out in a five-receiver set. The Vandals appeared On the next play Farmer fought through a clogged middle and emerged from the fray with an eight-yard touchdown. The ensuing PAT was blocked and the Cats led 9-0.

The Vandals were on the move, taking advantage of two big penalties, when Michael Jolivette ended the drive one-handed. Walsh looked deep over the middle, when Jolivette made a one-handed interception at the one-yard line where Arizona took over first and ten.

Mackovic decided to forgo conservative play calling and let Johnson wing it out of his own endzone. Marshall hauled in Johnson's long bomb, and raced 99 yards for the score. The play eclipsed the school record for longest offensive touchdown and became the fourth longest scoring play in school history.

"It definitely set the tone for the rest of the game," Johnson said. "I think I chose a good record to break, because I don't see how you can throw a longer one." Idaho took advantage of a short punt and a late hit penalty to set themselves up with a short field. The Vandals began the drive on the 46-yard line and connected on a 34-yard pass right off the bat. Idaho blew their final timeout trying to avoid a delay of game call and it proved costly. After a short gain, the Vandals could not get out of bounds and without any timeouts left, the Vandals had no time to set up for a field goal.

Arizona went to the locker room with 301 yards of total offense and a 15-0 lead.

Idaho came out of the locker room and marched right down the field, milking almost 5:00 off the clock. The Vandals stalled on the 44-yard line and their fourth down conversion attempt fell short. The Wildcats took advantage of the field position and Johnson capped the drive of the second half with an eight-play drive ending with a 19-yard scoring pass to Andrae Thurman.

Farmer paced the Cats on their next scoring drive. The Houston halfback had 43 yards on a handful of eventful carries. Farmer spun away from defenders, broke tackles and actually did a complete flip after a hit to conclude an option toss. Farmer sealed the drive with a one-yard plunge and the Cats had a 29-0 lead.

The Vandals finally got on the board with 12:33 to play in the game. Following a pass interference call that gave them the ball at the eight, Welsh connected with Rossi Martin on a slant pattern and it was 29-7 in favor of Arizona.

Cliff Watkins relieved Johnson and led the Cats on another touchdown drive on his first ever collegiate series. Leo Mills exploded through a hole in the middle for a 22-yard touchdown run.

"It was a real good hole," Mills said. "Nobody was there. I just ran away from the defenders." The Vandals came right back. Against a defense made up of mainly second-teamers, the Vandals marched 80 yards and scored on Welsh's second touchdown pass of the night. Welsh connected with Chris Lacy on a 20-yard strike to cut the Arizona lead to 36-14.

Idaho cut into the lead some more with a 25-yard td strike, but after a three and out a fumbled punt return appeared to seal the Vandal's fate.

The Cats couldn't capitalize on the miscue and fumbled the hand-off exchange on the ensuing snap. Idaho took over on their own 30, trailing 36-22.

With only one timeout, the Vandals marched down to the Arizona 20. Welsh's fourth down scramble came up short, but the Vandals received second life when a face mask call gave them the ball at the six yard line. Welsh took advantage of the opportunity. Flushed out of the pocket, the Idaho quarterback threw a dangerous pass into a crowd at the goal line. Two Wildcats tipped the ball, but Martin made a circus catch a yard into the end zone. After the extra point the Vandals only trailed 36-29.

"The fourth quarter kind of sticks in your head," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "You can't really say you had a good performance. Fourth quarter, it killed us last year, but it isn't going to kill us this year. We have to take care of business. In the fourth quarter we just didn't get it done." The Vandals' tried an unconventional onsides attempt, but it was recovered by the Wildcats and Arizona ran out the clock to preserve the win.

Johnson continued to play well, connecting on 20-of-30 attempts for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Farmer added 122 yards rushing on only 18 carries.

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