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No one was sure what to expect of the Wildcats this week. Less than a week after firing John Mackovic as head coach the Arizona football team had to face No. 15 ranked Washington State on the road. The Cats did not come away with a win, but the defense put up a fight and gave the Cats a chance.
"Obviously it's disappointing but I think we are making progress," said new head coach Mike Hankwitz. "When you take Washington State deep into the fourth quarter you're doing something right."
Arizona trailed 16-7 midway in the fourth quarter but two turnovers cost the Wildcats any chance for a victory. After forcing a fumble deep in their territory the Cats had a chance to get within a score, but true freshman Kris Heavner threw an interception that was returned 34 yards for a score by Jason David. The next play Heavner and Mike Bell misplayed a handoff and the Cougars recovered the fumble. WSU scored just two plays later to give the Cougars a 30-7 lead.
The Wildcats defense kept the team in the game. They bent but did not break, forced two turnovers inside the redzone and held Washington State to field goals on three other occasions. All told the defense was on the field for 33:41, but forced three turnovers which gave the anemic offense a slim chance.
As good as the defense was, the offense was just as bad. Save for one drive the Wildcat offense never got it going. As they have all season, the Wildcats never got the running game going and Heavner was not sharp enough to keep the Cats in the game with his arm.
Heavner was 18-35 for 128 yards and did a very good job of getting rid of the ball and not taking a sack all day. He did not make enough big plays, but really only made one mistake on the interception.
"I was impressed with his poise and decision making," Hankwitz said. "I don't know what happened on the interception, but other than that he made good decisions."
The offense managed just 198 yards, 65 on the ground. Most damning was the fact that the unit was a dismal 0-13 on third down conversions. They were actually more successful on fourth down than on third with their one successful conversion.
Washington State got a second life on their second drive thanks to a celebration penalty following a Clay Hardt sack. Following the sack, Matt Kegel and Jonathan Smith teamed up for a 29-yard pass play and Kegel found tight end Troy Bienemann for 16 yards on the next play. But that was it for the Cougars and they had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
For the game Kegel was 18-32 for 315 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Jonathan Smith had 83 yards on 20 carries while Chris Bruhn had 67 yards on the ground.
The Cougars struck again on the very next possession. This time on a big play, and it looked like the route could be on. Kegel found Devard Darling on the right side and the speedster streaked 84 yards for the lone touchdown of the first half.
Washington State tacked on a field goal on the final play of the first quarter and didn't score again until Drew Dunning's third field goal of the game late in the third quarter.
The Wildcats' lone score actually made it look like they had a chance. Despite being outplayed, the Wildcats managed one nice drive and capped it off with a touchdown that pulled them within 13-7.
The Cats took over possession when Gary Shephard recovered Chris Bruhn's fumble. The Cats then ran three plays and got just seven-yard but went for it on fourth down and three. Following a time out Heavner found fullback Gilbert Harris on a short pass and Harris rumble 27 yards down to the five-yard line. On the next play Nic Costa snuck into the game and found tight end Matt Padron for the team's lone touchdown.
Overall the Wildcats have to be pleased with the effort but disappointed with the outcome. For the second straight week the Wildcats were in it late, despite the offense not moving the ball. Also like last week the Wildcat defense got caught on a long pass off of a blitz.
The Cats should have a shot at their second win of the year when UCLA comes to town next weekend. UCLA has had offensive struggles of their own and the Cats will have another week between them and the coaching change.
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