Cats hang on for close win

TUCSON—It was a game reminiscent of the 1994 Freedom Bowl. Arizona completely outplayed the Utah Utes, but costly turnovers and timely plays made the game a nail biter. Unlike the ill-fated night in Anaheim, the Wildcats held on for a close 23-17 victory.

Utah had its only sustained drive of the game in the final minutes, but it came down to one play. The Utes faced fourth and three from the Arizona four-yard line with just over thirty seconds left to play. Utah tried a screen pass to a flaring half back but strong safety Clay Hardt stuffed the runner and Joe Siofele came over to end the hopes of the visiting team.

"We had to step up and make a play," said Hardt. "A lot of people stepped up and made plays. Our defense had the right call and they played right into our hands."

Two plays earlier the Utes thought they had the lead when a diving Josh Lyman grabbed a pass, but the referee ruled that his momentum caused his shoulder to land out of bounds before his knee struck the endzone turf.

The game shouldn't have been close. The Wildcats moved the ball at will, amassing 459 yards of total offense. But Arizona cracked the endzone just twice.

Arizona was able to move the ball on Utah in the first half, but had difficulty scoring. Despite outgaining the Utes by 193 yards, the Wildcats managed just 13 points as Utah was able to keep Arizona out of the endzone on all but two drives.

The Utes took advantage of a number of Arizona mistakes to keep the contest close, but gained just 204 yards, with 67 coming on the final fourth quarter drive. .

It resembled a prizefight where one boxer has his way with his opponent, but fails to put him away. Arizona couldn't find the knockout punch in the fourth quarter. Twice John Mackovic went for risky plays and twice momentum swung in Utah's favor. Early in the quarter Sean Keel tried a 51-yard field goal only to have it blocked by Utah's Lynzell Jackson. Later in the quarter the Cats went for it on a fourth and one, but the stingy Utah defense stuffed a toss sweep to Clarence Farmer.

The much-vaunted match-up beat the Utah zone blitz and the wide open Arizona air attack failed to live up to the hype. Utah got to Jason Johnson on a few occasions, but for the most part the Wildcat senior was able to find his targets in man coverage or open in the zone. Bobby Wade and Andrae Thurman had career nights, as the best friends from Phoenix racked up 175 yards and 165 yards respectively.

"I was really pleases to see Andrae have the night he had," Mackovic said. "We knew if they blitzed us and went one-on-one we could get the ball to Bobby and Andrae." The second half saw the Utes get away from the zone blitz and work more at stopping the run. Farmer had 61 yards at the half, but picked up only 18 more on 17 carries in the second half.

Johnson had one of the best passing nights in school history. He connected on 24-of-35 attempts for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Wildcats exerted their will on the much-vaunted Utes defense from the start. Johnson found Wade one-on-one on the sideline and dropped a perfect pass into the junior's hands for a 39-yard gain. Then Frmer ran four straight plays, grinding out 22 yards. The drive was thwarted when Utah defensive end Jason Kaufusi charged untouched off the end, crushing a defenseless Johnson and caused a fumble the Utes recovered.

Utah's zone blitz gave Arizona trouble on the next drive, but when Johnson had time to throw he picked the Utes apart. Johnson was sacked once and Farmer was met in the backfield by two blitzing Utah players, but other than that the line held and Johnson was perfect. The senior connected on three passes for 61 yards including a 48-yard touchdown pass to Wade that gave the Cats a 7-0 lead.

The first quarter saw Utah struggle on offense. The Arizona defense held the Utes running game in check, while quarterback Lance Rice was unable to get much going in the air. Rice completed just 3-of-8 passes for 25 yards as the Wildcats held Utah to just a pair of first downs.

The Johnson to Wade show continued on the Wildcats first drive of the second quarter. The Cats' deadly duo connected on two long passes to march Arizona deep into Utah territory. The Ute defense stiffened and the Cats settled for a 21-yard Sean Keel field goal.

Utah's defense made a huge play when Lauvale Sape stripped the ball from Gainus Scott and Dave Revill pounced on it giving Utah the ball at the eight-yard line. On third down Rice found Josh Lyman with a lob pass to the right corner of the end zone that finally put Utah on the scoreboard with 7:46 left in the first half.

A 16-yard Wade punt return gave the Wildcats fantastic field position at their own 48-yard line with time winding down in the first half. Johnson hit Andrae Thurman on a slant that went 23 yards. Thurman dropped the next pass, but Johnson went to him a third time and the two picked up 12-yards. After a dead ball foul, the Cats had first and goal at the Utah ten. An incomplete pass for Wade and a short run by Farmer and the Cats faced a big third down with just :24 left in the half. One the next play Johnson found Wade at the four, but a trio of Utah defenders stopped him at the two-yard line.

Arizona called timeout and after much deliberation settled on a 19-yard field goal which Keel nailed to the Wildcats a 13-7 halftime lead.

Arizona cracked the Utah defense on the opening drive of the second half. The Wildcats mixed run and pass to move into Utah territory. It was in Utah territory that Johnson found Thurman on a quick slant and the wideout hauled in and sprinted 44-yards for the score.

The Utes were stifled on the next possession as Lance Briggs caused J.R. Peroulis to fumble at his own 21-yard line and Joe Siofele pounced on the loose ball to give the Wildcats great field position. Arizona ran twice and failed to convert on third down, settling for the third Keel field goal of the game and a 23-7 lead.

Utah's offensive woes continued, but the defense made another big play when Cody Weight picked off a Johnson pass and returned it to the Wildcat 39 yard line. Rice and Devin Houston connected on a 29-yard pass play on the next snap that gave the Utes great field position just inside the Arizona 10. Paris Jackson out jumped a pair of Wildcats, and made an outstanding juggling catch to cut the Arizona lead to nine, 23-14. For the second time in the game an Arizona turnover proved costly.

Josh Lyman was unable to haul in a long bomb from Rice that would have given Utah fantastic field position and the Wildcats responded. Like the rest of the game, Arizona marched down the field but stalled in Utah territory. The Wildcats attempted a 51-yard field goal, but Keel's attempt was blocked at the line and Antoine Sanders scooped up the ball and rambled to the Wildcat 32-yard line.

Utah had great field position, but thanks to a penalty and a quarterback sack the Utes failed to score and were forced to punt.

The Wildcats were unable to put the game away late and just over two minutes left Arizona punted the ball to Utah. Morgan Scalley returned the ball 13 yards to the Utah 28 to set up the Utes' final drive. Utah used good passing from Rice and two Arizona penalties to move down the field before being stopped inside the five. Rice completed 7-of-9 passes on the drive, but the two incompletions came in the endzone.

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