There are certainly no moral victories for the Arizona Wildcats this season. The door was wide open for them to win the Pac-10 championship and head to their first Rose Bowl thanks to a down year by USC.
But Saturday’s devastating loss to Oregon — a game in which they led 24-14 in the fourth quarter — eliminated the Wildcats from the ‘Grand Daddy of them All’ game and puts them at 6-4, 4-3 in the Conference and fighting for Bowl positioning in its last two games.
The game was certainly worth College Game Day’s presence as it was one of shifting tides and momentum. Arizona was down 14-0 early, came back to take a 24-14 lead and then allowed a game-tying 15-play, 80-yard drive that forced overtime. There are always a few plays in each close loss that will haunt a football team. For Arizona there are five that stand out. Five plays that if made would have assured victory and set up an incredible two weeks of football in an attempt to make Pasadena a January destination.
1) Alex Zendejas misses a 24-yard field goal. With Arizona leading 17-14 the Wildcats have a chance to tack on three more and their reliable kicker misses a gimme. Those three points would have been the difference between winning and losing.
2) Still ahead 17-14 after the missed field goal, Trevin Wade drops an easy interception at the Oregon 37-yard line. The difference between winning and losing in a game like this is this close and had Wade caught that ball Arizona would have likely came away with at least three points, maybe seven.
3) Oregon kicker Morgan Flint hits a low line drive on a 43-yard field goal attempt that hits the crossbar bounces up and over to pull Oregon within 24-21. Sometimes you have to be lucky and Flint certainly was on this field goal.
4) On the final drive in regulation Oregon faces a 3rd and 11 with 1:06 left and LaMichael James breaks a tackle and races 17 yards for a first-down to keep the drive alive.
5) With 23 ticks of the clock remaining Oregon is facing a 4th-and-5 from the Arizona 22. A stop here and the game is over. Instead Jeremiah Masoli finds Jeff Maehl for a 7-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later Masoli hits Ed Dixon with the tying touchdown and Oregon goes on to win in overtime.
It’s hard to look back on any one play and say it was the difference but in reality that’s what football is all about. If any one of these plays had gone Arizona’s way the Wildcats would be in the drivers seat in the Pac-10. Instead all they can do now is sniff the tears and hope that wins in their final two games will get them to the Holiday Bowl.