The Arizona Wildcats football team continues to live on borrowed time. But they may have just used up the last of their karma.
On the last play of Saturday’s game, Anu Solomon sent a ‘Hail Mary’ pass airborne that eventually came down in the hands of wide receiver Austin Hill as time expired, giving the Cats a miraculous come-from-behind win in their conference opener against California.
And to pull this one off, the Cats had to put 36 points on the board in the fourth quarter alone.
You might recall, the game before against Nevada was still in doubt midway through the fourth quarter as the Wolf Pack pulled to within a score with six minutes yet to play, but Arizona was able to run the clock out on the final possession to save the win. The game before that, the Cats stalled in the red zone on three of their four opportunities as Texas-San Antonio built a 16-13 lead. Arizona had to use four field goals to stay in the game and weren’t able to put away the 26-23 win until Jared Tevis scuttled a final drive by the Roadrunners with an interception with 1:20 left in the game.
But this last salvage job takes the cake.
When Hill leapt into the end zone in the midst of a handful of California defenders and pulled down the winning score, it capped a heart-stopping rally that enabled Arizona to turn a 28-6 halftime deficit into a 49-45 victory.
Four of Solomon’s five TD throws came during the final quarter as he set a new school record of 520 yards in a single game. But the most important yards turned out to be the final 47 that it took to get the ball into Hill’s hands for the winning score.
“Winning on a Hail Mary is so improbable,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said in looking back over the game. “At first you’re exhilarated, and then your’e thinking: ‘How did that just happen?’
“I’m happy for Anu, who was off, but kept battling, and executed the last play. I’m happy for the people who stayed and watched the game.”
Solomon was, in fact, inconsistent early in the game and had trouble dropping the ball into his receivers’ hands. About midway through the game, Rodriguez even had his back-up QB, Jesse Scroggins, warming up on the sideline.
But Solomon, the redshirt freshman from Nevada’s Bishop Gorman High School, confirmed his coach’s confidence down the stretch. Not only did he break the school yardage record, he also passed the records set by Matt Scott for completions and attempts with 43 completions in 73 attempts.
And, to top it off, he was also the Cats’ leading rusher on the night with 46 more yards on the ground.
It also showed something about the team, says Hill. “I think this game showed that, no matter how far behind we are, we have the maturity to pick ourselves up and learn from mistakes during the game so we can make big plays and come back to get the win.”
While Hill made the most memorable catch of the night (and perhaps the season), he wasn’t Solomon’s only target. Nine different receivers made catches during the game. Cayleb Jones led the way with 186 yards on 13 catches, accounting for three of the touchdowns. Hill followed with 127 yards on eight catches and Nate Phillips also had eight receptions for 80 yards.
And in that critical second half, when the Cats were piling up 420 yards in their comeback bid, the Arizona defense held the Golden Bears to 197 yards. Leading the way were Scooby Wright III, who had a monster night with 18 tackles and two sacks, and Tra’Mayne Bondurant, who contributed seven tackles, an interception, and an onside kick recovery.
“There wasn’t any panic at halftime,” Rodriguez pointed out. “I told the guys before the game we were going to have to play for 60 minutes.”
And, as it turned out, it took every single second of those 60 minutes to pull this one out of the fire.
This win will go down as one of the most memorable in program history, and the coaches and players will have a little extra time to savor the victory since they don’t return to the field until Oct. 2 when they travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks.
But it’s going to take more than a Hail Mary pass to beat the No. 2 team in the nation. Last year, Arizona stunned the Ducks by handing them one of only two losses they suffered on the season and this time around Oregon will be looking to settle the score.
And, if you’ve seen the Aflac commercials, you know an angry duck is a sight to behold.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)