Tough loss for the Wildcats

The fans started singing "Na-na-na goodbye" about 1:30 too early. Arizona looked to be sewing up a win over Washington State, when a fumble in the final moments gave the Cougars second life. WSU pulled off the miracle finish with a 20-19 win at Arizona Stadium.

The Washington State/Arizona series has been a crazy one over the years. It has featured last second finishes, multiple overtimes and lots of controversy. The last three years have seen the series dominated by WSU, but Arizona had a chance to win. Mike Stoops' Wildcats came into the Pac-10 opener in a game that they could win, taking on the Washington State Cougars. In a very sloppily played game featuring nine fumbles, Arizona was unable to prevail in the end losing 20-19 in a game that they looked to have wrapped up.

"This was obviously a tough loss," Stoops said. "We came up with a couple of great plays but we couldn't get it done."

Arizona scored the go-ahead touchdown and then forced Washington State to punt. Arizona got a first down and just had to run a few more plays to run out the clock. Arizona considered taking a knee with about 1:30 left, but the Cougars still had a timeout left and the Wildcats would be forced to punt with about 20 seconds left. Instead they ran up the middle where Gilbert Harris had the ball jarred loose by a Washington State helmet. The Cougars recovered the fumble and initially looked to score a touchdown, but the officials ruled that a WSU defender was down when he recovered the ball.

Two plays later Josh Swogger found Jason Hill in the corner of the endzone for a the 15-yard game winning score.

Arizona had a final chance but the team could not get downfield with :53 and no timeouts. Coming off two straight losses to Utah and Wisconsin, both ranked at the time, Arizona had a chance to rebound today.

Washington State was able to move the ball well on their second drive, getting it into the endzone. However a holding penalty brought it back.

Washington State appeared to be out of luck on the same drive until a 3rd and 15 conversion to the Arizona two led to a touchdown on the next play. Jerome Harrison ran the ball two yards for the touchdown. The extra point was good by kicker Loren Langley, making the score 7-0 with 8:14 left to play in the first quarter. Harrison was Washington State's primary threat offensively running for 22 of his 35 yards on the drive.

Arizona's offensive woes continued in the first quarter, unable to convert a first down and only producing seven yards of total offense in the quarter.

The Wildcat defense started out having a rough game as well, but turnovers bailed them out. The Cougars were moving down the field again when the Cats recovered a fumble at the Arizona 28.

After the fumble, Arizona was able to pick up the first down off a Kris Heavner run on a broken play. After the first down Heavner completed a pass to Biren Ealy over the middle for the first down. It was his first reception of the season, however he fumbled the ball on the play as well.

Washington State could not take advantage of the turnover as Carlos Williams stripped the ball from Chris Bruhn just two plays later..

On Arizona's first play of the drive, Heavner dropped back, dodged a tackle and threw the ball long down the field to Syndic Steptoe. Steptoe, a 5-9 wide receiver jumped over Karl Paymah to make the reception and run in for the 47-yard touchdown.

Following the game Steptoe was disappointed, but optimistic.

"We are just waiting for that one big break through," Steptoe said. "We were so close we could taste it, but it will come." Steptoe ended the game with six receptions for 105 yards and both Arizona touchdowns.

Arizona's defense came up big on Washington State's next drive holding them on 4th and 1 with 2:11 left in the half. This set up an opportunity for the Cats to score before the end of the half and start the second half with the ball. Unfortunately, the Wildcats were unable to capitalize going three and out forced to punt on fourth down.

Arizona began the second half with the ball and started strong. Using up 7:46 on the clock in 17 plays for 74 yards. Arizona was able to get to the Washington State two-yard line. Unfortunately Harris was tackled for a loss on the next play. The drive ended with a 23-yard field goal by Folk making the score 10-7 Arizona.

The sloppiness continued in the third quarter as Washington State fumbled on their first play of the second half. The fumble inside the Washington State 20 was recovered by Arizona at the 12, with an opportunity to take a two possession lead.

Arizona then ran the ball up the middle on first, threw an incomplete pass in the endzone on second and Heavner was sacked on third down. Folk came in to kick the 37-yard field goal. The kick barely cleared the cross bar but slipped through, making the score 13-7 Arizona.

Washington State missed a 49-yard field goal on their next drive and things seemed to be going Arizona's way.

Washington State was able to put a successful drive together on their next possession, scoring a touchdown off a 43-yard pass from Josh Swogger to Jason Hill. With the extra point Washington State pulled ahead 14-13 with 13:22 left in the game.

For the game Swogger was 18-37 for 282 yards and two scores. His day was even more impressive due to the fact that he was questionable to even play the game.

Arizona was able to put together another strong drive following the Washington State touchdown and Heavner threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Steptoe making the score 19-14 Arizona. Following the touchdown, Arizona went for two hoping to make it a 7 point game, however the conversion failed.

Washington State was unable to put a drive together and went three and out giving Arizona the ball with 2:50 left in the game. At the same time, Washington State only had one timeout left. Arizona began running the ball trying to pickup a first down and let the clock run out.

Arizona picked up a first down with 1:50 left. Unfortunately, Gilbert Harris fumbled on the next play giving the ball to Washington State with excellent field position. After the fumble, people immediately questioned Stoops' decision on whether or not to take a knee.

"If the clock would have been down to 1:10, we would have taken a knee," explained Stoops.

Washington State would score soon after. Following a failed two point conversion, the score was 20-19 Washington State.

Arizona was unable to get a first down on their next possession, much less move down the field and the drive ended when Kris Heavner's fourth down pass sailed harmlessly out of bounds. WSU took a knee and ended the game.

In the game Arizona fumbled the ball four times, losing it twice. Washington State however fumbled the ball five times, losing it four.

"I'm just sick of losing," said Bell. "I want to do whatever it takes to win."

Bell ran for 66 yards on 22 carries.

Gilbert Harris ran the ball 12 times for 19 yards.

Biren Ealy made his season debut with two receptions for 18 yards. Also, Ricky Williams had a reception for 38 yards.

Arizona now has a bye week and will face UCLA the week after.

"I wish that our break was two weeks of feeling good about what we did today," said Stoops. "But we'll keep practicing and we'll be successful. I feel very strongly about these kids and their abilities."

Photos by Carl F. Shifflette III

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