TUCSON, Ariz.—Wisconsin's offense needed a bolt of lightning, or maybe a missing tailback. The bolts of lightning during an 88-minute, weather-induced game delay coming up short, a ghost defensive touchdown, and the urgency of the ensuing scenario, did the trick.
Nine unanswered fourth-quarter points, and one missed field goal later, the Badgers escaped an uncommonly wet desert with their undefeated mark (3-0) intact.
"We are going to do whatever it takes to win," quarterback John Stocco said. "It's not going to be pretty all the time, but, you know, nobody quit. At the end we got a score and put the game away."
Mike Allen, who earlier in the fourth quarter missed an extra point, hit a 23-yard field goal to give Wisconsin a 9-7 lead with 3:47 left to play.
"You don't think about it," Allen said of the missed extra point. "You can't think about it. If you think about it then you are going to miss."
Arizona, though, quickly took advantage of a blown coverage, quarterback Kris Heavner finding tight end Steve Fleming wide open along the left sideline for a 23-yard gain with three-and-a-half minutes left to play. Wildcat running back Gilbert Harris than gashed the Badger defense right up the middle for gains of 7 and 14 yards, respectively, setting up first-and-ten at the Badger 25 with less than three minutes remaining.
Arizona was called for a false start on their next play, however, and abruptly turned conservative. Harris ran right for two yards with two-and-a-half to play and Arizona chose to let the clock run. Another Harris run, this one stuffed for a three-yard loss, took the clock down to 53 seconds, when the Wildcats called timeout.
On third-and-16 from the Wisconsin 31, Harris ran yet again, this time for one yard, setting up sophomore kicker Nick Folk for a 47-yard attempt with 48 seconds remaining. Arizona coach Mike Stoops said after the game that he did not want to risk passing the ball on third down, lest he risk seeing his quarterback sacked for the fourth time, thus taking the Wildcats out of field goal range.
Folk made the first two field goals of his career last week, from 33 and 35 yards out. He had missed a 43-yard attempt Saturday with 9:16 left in the third quarter that would have given Arizona a 10-0 lead.
Folk's last-minute attempt had plenty of distance, but sailed just left of the upright, sending the Badger sideline into a frenzy.
"It looked good off his foot but it started bending late and I was real happy when he missed it," free safety Jim Leonhard said.
"I know he's going to miss it. That's what I like to think in my mind," Allen said. "He's probably thinking the same thing when I'm kicking."
"I knew they probably wanted to have the middle of the field," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "I knew that kicker had a strong leg. I was kind of surprised the way the last two or three plays unfolded."
In what was a defensive battle from the opening kickoff, Wisconsin relinquished a touchdown for the first time all season with 32 seconds left in the first half. After free safety Jim Leonhard stumbled, Heavner found Mike Jefferson wide open for a 44-yard touchdown connection.
Wisconsin's offense, meanwhile, was falling all over itself. The Badgers failed to pick up a fourth-and-one at the Arizona four on their second drive of the game and fumbled just inside Wildcat territory on their most productive drive of the first half (seven plays, 42 yards).
With about five minutes left in the third quarter, reserve linebacker Andy Crooks stripped the ball from Arizona tailback Mike Bell and carried it into the end zone. Officials on the field, however, ruled that Bell's forward progress had stopped after a one-yard run, setting up fourth-and-14 at the Wildcat six.
The Badgers took over at their own 44 with 4:04 left in the third quarter, still trailing 7-0. To this point in the game Wisconsin's offensive production amounted to 146 yards and two turnovers. Tailback Booker Stanley had been held to 58 yards rushing on 18 carries; quarterback John Stocco was 6-for-15 for 68 yards throwing.
With the game on the line, however, the offense suddenly clicked into motion, beginning with Stanley's best run of the game to that point, an 11-yard jaunt around left end. Nine plays and 45 yards later, Stanley capped a four-minute, 43-second drive with a swan dive into the end zone. The seven-yard touchdown run gave Stanley six carries for 29 yards on the drive.
"He just put his head down, broke a lot of tackles," Stocco said of Stanley's late-game performance. "I thought he did a great job."
The touchdown, though, only drew Wisconsin within one point after Allen's extra point missed wide right.
Wisconsin regained possession at its 23 with 11:13 left to play. Following a false start, Stanley broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage and sprinted into open field for a gain of 23. A ten-yard completion from Stocco to Darrin Charles on third-and-ten then placed Wisconsin at the Arizona 39.
Two plays later, however, Wisconsin faced a third-and-11 at the 40. Stocco completed a six-yard pass to tight end Owen Daniels on third down. Stocco again turned to Daniels on fourth down but threw the pass well behind its target. Daniels, though, lunged backward and came up with the six-yard first-down reception.
"Owen Daniels' catch on fourth down was phenomenal," offensive coordinator Brian White said.
With new life at the 28, Stanley picked up 16 yards, then 3, on the ground. Stocco lost two on a broken play and on third-and-nine Wisconsin ran a toss to the left to Stanley, was stopped at the three.
Allen then hit his 23-yard attempt, providing the margin of victory and putting the finishing touches on a seven-minute, 26-second drive.
"It says an awful lot about the character and the makeup of our whole football team," White said. "We played a complete team game and found a way to win."
Stanley finished with 30 carries for 135 yards. True freshman Jamil Walker struggled in reserve, with five carries for zero yards and one lost fumble. Facing few alternatives with star tailback Anthony Davis missing his second consecutive start, the Badgers turned to Stanley time and time again.
"My guess is if he had fresh legs—we had it blocked. I thought he maybe could have got that one in before we kicked the field goal," head coach Barry Alvarez said.
Stocco finished 12 of 24 for 116 yards.
Arizona managed just 199 yards total offense. Heavner was 9-for-15 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Harris picked up 56 yards on 11 rushing attempts. Bell, meanwhile, ran for 43 yards on nine carries, after picking up 48 on his first five attempts.
"I think we were faced with adversity. We were put in tough situations. We had to respond," Bielema said. "I don't want to leave it up to the fate of a kicker at the end of a game but I think there were things that those kids persevered through during the course of the game."
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