TUCSON – For Kyle Quinn, it’s about leaving “our legacy.”
It would be on so many levels. He and 20 other seniors would be part of Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s first team defying the odds and finishing the regular season 8-4, going to a bowl game and, yes, beating Arizona State … again.
Can it all happen? Friday night’s Territorial Cup battle will provide the answer.
“We’ll play fast and play for each other,” Quinn said. “It’s the last time as seniors we will be able to strap up in Arizona Stadium and leave our legacy.”
A win over in-state rivals Arizona State would be fourth victory in the series for Quinn, a fifth-year senior; for the four-year seniors, it would mean going 3-1.
“We’re not looking at the record,” UA senior kicker John Bonano said, “we just want to go out with a win.”
Arizona won last year’s game 31-27 as an underdog in Tempe. This year, the Wildcats (7-4) are slight favorites on their home field over the Sun Devils (6-5).
“Last year playing up there, making sure we got the win, just seeing the looks on the seniors’ faces was unforgettable,” said UA running back Ka’Deem Carey. “You can’t replace something like that. To keep (the Territorial Cup) here for these seniors is just as important. I think that’s big for the team. I’m going to go out there and play my hardest for them. Hopefully we get the win at home.”
Win or lose, the seniors figure to have one more game — a bowl game. But the emotions never figure to be any higher than on their home turf, against the Sun Devils.
“I’m going to remember these guys for the rest of my life,” Quinn said. “We’ve stuck together. We’ve run this team by example. We don’t have to say much.”
Rodriguez has leaned on the group, initially meeting with each senior-to-be when he was hired last November to get everyone on the same page and ask them to help lead their younger teammates, whether they had a chance to play or not. It would be a season that would help build his program.
“They are a good group of guys. I like their attitude and their willingness to listen and learn,” Rodriguez said. “You could go into buying the team concept, or you could go the other way and be a detriment. Our guys have chosen to go the right way, and even the ones that do not play, they are bought into the program. Their attitudes have been really good. The seniors have been great leaders, and their leadership has really helped us to transition. We are trying to build a program, not a team, and we have tried to keep that our focus.”
The focus has been surgical-like: Precise and productive. So much so, senior fullback Taimi Tutogi wishes he had one more year.
“I wish Coach Rodriguez would have come in a year earlier than he did, but things have worked out have they’ve did,” Tutogi said.
“It’s been a 360 (degree) difference from last year. Now I wish I would have redshirted my freshman year. That’s just a product of how coach Rich Rod coaches and his philosophy. I like that it’s a family. I’m sad but happy for the younger guys, but that’s what they are going to get for the rest of their career.”
But there’s still a game to be played against the Sun Devils — “the one I’ve been looking forward to all season,” Bonano said.
“It’s going to be a great, physical game,” said Quinn. “Anything and everything has happened in this game. It’s a rivalry game. We can only control what we can.”
Fifth-year Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, two weeks removed from a concussion, will play a large role in that regard.
“I’ve been here five years and can’t explain how I feel about these guys,” Scott said of the Sun Devils. “Obviously, we don’t like them, and they don’t like us. It’s a big rivalry game. It’s a big week for us, and we need to prepare mentally.”
On the ASU sideline will be several players from Scott’s alma mater, Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., including senior linebacker Brandon Magee, junior defensive tackle Will Sutton and freshman quarterback Michael Eubank.
“I know those guys from back in high school and, obviously, they went to ASU and they could have gone here, some of them,” Scott said.
“There’s resentment against them, I guess you could say. It’s definitely a bigger game just because they’re on the team. I don’t want to lose to these guys and go back home and have those guys talking.”