Arizona keeps finding a way to win
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, ever the movie buff, sat down at the post-game press conference and quoted Gladiator: "Are you not entertained?"
The Wildcats' season has been packed with thrills, drama and incredible twists.
The latest bit of shocking entertainment came Saturday.
After recovering a Washington fumble with 1:23 left, Arizona drove 15 yards to set up a last-play 47-yard field goal from junior Casey Skowron, whose kick delivered a 27-26 victory in a game that kept alive the 14th-ranked Wildcats shot at the Pac-12 South title.
UA is 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the division. Washington is 6-5 and 2-5.
Arizona overcame a mediocre day by redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, who was 17 for 40 for 242 yards and two interceptions. His second pick came in the end zone with 4:25 left on what Rodriguez called a "mix up" with Solomon and receiver Trey Griffey, who stopped short on his route.
The Wildcats seemed doomed when the Huskies then gained two first downs, nearly able to run out the clock. But the Huskies didn't take three knees and punt. They handed the ball off, giving Arizona its chance. The Wildcats were ready, stripping the ball and recovering at the UW 45.
Rodriguez told his team when it was up 21-17 at halftime that "it would come down to the last minute anyway."
The Cats are used to it. Arizona has won almost all its close calls, the notable exception being a 28-26 loss to USC on Oct. 11, when Skowron missed a late 36-yard field goal. This time, he made no doubt of the game-winner in front of a national Fox Sports audience.
"Kudos to him," Rodriguez said of Skowron.
it was a dream day. Late in the first half, Skowron, a 5-foot-10, 160-pounder, scored on an 18-yard fake field goal run to cut UA's deficit to 17-14 lead.
"Now he wants to be the tailback, too," Rodriguez joked. "He was the difference. I'm proud of him."
Arizona put in the fake just this week in practice.
"Casey had been fired up all week because he was like, 'I got this,'" said Rodriguez, with his usual tell-a-joke smile.
Skowron's redemption kick was the eventual difference after UW called a timeout just a moment before he missed right on what turned out to be a practice kick. Things went the opposite way against USC. He made a kick right after the Trojans called timeout, but then missed when it counted for real. Skowron, a converted soccer player, said "every time I kick I think of the USC game."
Maybe he won't have to now.
"It felt fantastic," Skowron said. "Any time you are able to win a game, I am happy. Whether it's off a field goal or a blowout or off a last-minute touchdown, as long as we get the win (it's good)."
As for the fake field goal, he said he "just put my head down, was ready for the snap and (was) ready to go."
For Washington, it was a game of mistakes and poor decisions. It lost three fumbles -- including the crucial one late in the game when safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant ripped the ball from running back Deontae Cooper -- and had 13 penalties. It also missed an extra point in the third quarter.
"We all feel it and we are all suffering from the loss," said Washington coach Chris Petersen. "It's not just one play, though."
Arizona has won five games that have been decided in the final minutes, turning potential disaster into opportunities. UA won on a Hail Mary pass in a 49-45 win over California. It held on to beat Oregon in the final moments on a stripped-ball fumble. It beat UTSA and Nevada with late defensive plays.
On the flip side is the USC game and a blocked field goal with 2 minutes left in a 17-7 loss at UCLA.
"I need a break," Rodriguez said.
Petersen could have decided to run the clock down to about 10 seconds by taking a knee on the final drive before having to punt. Instead he chose to run the ball. Bondurant was able to strip the ball.
"It was a great play," said Bondurant, who has routinely been the guy to save UA with an unusual turnover throughout his career. "It was a good team effort because I had one of my guys hold him up and I was able to get the strip."
Rodriguez said Bondurant just has "a knack" for getting it done.
Arizona has found that same knack this season. Never before has Rodriguez been in so many late-game victories in his time as a coach.
"I'm too young to have a heart attack," said UA free safety Jourdon Grandon. "It's gone down to the wire (many times), but that's the definition of a good team -- when you find ways to win and pull it out. We've come miles since the beginning of the RichRod era."
The Wildcats will travel more miles to play Utah next Saturday. More entertainment awaits.