First ASU, then UA…USC football beats both in final minutes

Arizona’s Pac-12 football teams have something in common this season — the same recurring nightmare.

The University of Arizona‘s loss to USC yesterday makes it a clean sweep by the Trojans since they beat Arizona State the week before.  And last season the Trojans also ran the table against both Arizona teams.

What has made the bad dream even scarier this season:  In both games, USC came from behind to pull out the win in the final minutes of each game.

With the game clock winding down yesterday, the Trojans marched 75 yards down the field on six plays to score the go-ahead touchdown with 25 ticks left on the clock for the 34-30 victory at Arizona Stadium.  USC quarterback Kevon Slovis shredded the Wildcat defense on the drive, using 4-for-4 passing to gain 69 yards.

That come-from-behind loss in the game’s final minute is eerily reminiscent of the ASU game when the No. 20-ranked Trojans scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the game for the come-from-behind 28-27 win.  Both TDs were completed on fourth downs, the second one coming with just 1:20 remaining in the game.

Yesterday’s UA loss was especially disappointing since the Wildcats stood toe-to-toe with the favored Trojans throughout the entire game.  Both teams managed 26 first downs; time of possession favored the Trojans, but by less than a minute; and Arizona actually ended up with more yards of total offense, 498-444.

But all of that meant little after Vavae Malepeai capped the final Trojan drive by bulling his way into the end zone on an eight-yard run, carrying several defenders with him.

Grant Gunnell, who has stepped into the large footprints of Kahlil Tate at quarterback, started the shortened season with a solid performance.  The 6’6″ sophomore from Texas threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns, holding his own against Slovis, who finished with 325 yards passing and one TD.

And Arizona may have also found the answer to its running game.  Gary Brightwell, a back-up in the back field and key contributor on special teams the last three seasons, used the USC game to prove he can be the Cats’ No. 1 running back.  The senior from Pennsylvania led the team with 113 yards rushing, averaging a shade more than five yards a carry.

The Cats were able to chew up the yardage in the first half, but had trouble pushing the ball over the goal line.  They rolled up 231 yards, but on three drives had to settle for field goal attempts.  Senior kicker Lucas Havrisik split the uprights on two of those as Arizona went into halftime time just four pointe down, 17-13.

Havrisik (above picture) made a 51-yard FG midway through the fourth quarter to give Arizona its first lead of the game, 23-20.  But a 6-yard TD pass from Slovis to Erik Kommenhoek at the 3:30 mark put the Trojans back up for good.

The Wildcats got back on the field for the first time in nearly a year since the COVID virus pushed the season back.  They were forced to wait an extra week for their season debut after Utah cancelled last week’s scheduled opener.

The result wasn’t everything they had hope for, but it finally gave the UA coaches a chance to see just what they have to work with this season.

And, judging by the Cats’ performance against a ranked team, there has to be a renewed optimism following a couple of losing seasons.

These Wildcats may be able to right the ship and give third-year coach Kevin Sumlin a little breathing room in his effort to keep his job.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)