GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — In a season highlighted by come-from-behind victories, the Arizona Wildcats couldn’t quite manage one more in a 38-30 Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State on Wednesday.
After falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, the Wildcats slowly, inconsistently got back in the game.
Their drive for what could have been the tying touchdown ended with redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon tackled at the Boise State 10 as time expired.
“I just tried to get the ball out of bounds. I knew we had no timeouts,” Solomon said. “On that last play I tried to do everything on my own. I tried to put everything on my shoulders. When I do that we lose. Everything’s on me.”
Solomon threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and the other setting up a score. He blamed himself for the loss.
“I was overthinking things and I just can’t do that,” he said. “I played like a freshman today.”
Caleb Jones’ spectacular catch of a 43-yard pass over a defender gave Arizona the ball at the Boise State 8 with 23 seconds to go. Solomon spiked the ball and the Wildcats (10-4) had three shots at the end zone.
On the first, Solomon’s fade to the corner of the end zone fell incomplete. Austin Hill, a senior in his final game, was open over the middle and threw up his hands in desperation.
“It’s definitely frustrating when you know you’re open but the QB decides to throw something else, especially when it doesn’t work out,” Hill said. “It’s’ always good when it works out or it’s a touchdown, but when it’s an incomplete pass, you’re wide open, as a receiver you’re always wondering ‘Why not me?'”
Coach Rich Rodriguez was in no mood to look back on what was mostly a successful season.
“After about a week or two I’ll probably remember it more fondly than I remember it right now,” he said. “I think the same way with our guys. If you’re a competitor, this don’t bother you, you shouldn’t be in the program.”
No. 12 Arizona was a seven-point favorite over No. 21 Boise State, the non-Power Five conference representative in a major bowl by finishing 20th in the college football playoff rankings. Arizona was 10th.
The Broncos, who are 3-0 in Fiesta Bowl appearances, scored three plays into the game on Jay Ajayi’s 56-yard run. The next possession, Grant Hedrick threw 57 yards to Chaz Anderson for a score and it was 14-0 less than 6 minutes into the game. It got worse for the Wildcats.
The Broncos resurrected the “State of Liberty” play that they used in a stunning 43-42 overtime upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. This time, it was Ajayi who took the ball from behind the quarterback and scored on a 16-yard run to make it 21-0.
Arizona got a touchdown late in the first quarter, but on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage in the second quarter, Solomon’s pass was intercepted by Cleshawn Page and returned 19 yards to the Arizona 22. That set up Ajayi’s 1-yard TD run and it was 28-7.
That was about it for the Boise State offense.
The only other Broncos’ touchdown came on Donte Deayon’s 16-yard interception return late in the third quarter.
But Arizona failed to get more than a field goal in three scoring threats, the last on Casey Skowron’s 32-yard field goal that made it 38-30 with 6:11 to go.
“Our guys have come back from big deficits before,” Rodriguez said. “Just got to play better. And we did at times, but not well enough to win it.”
After amassing 397 yards in the first half, Boise State managed just 74 in the second half, two yards in the third quarter.
“Second half we stepped it up,” linebacker Tra’Mayne Bondurant said. “We had a mindset on defense we had all year, bounce back. We’ve been in worse situations before.”
Arizona lost standout safety Jared Tevis to an elbow injury and running back Nick Wilson to a head injury in the first half.
The Wildcats outgained Boise State 492-471. Solomon was 28 of 49 for 335 yards and one touchdown.
He vowed to come back a better player.
“Starting tomorrow, I’m going to start working on getting my body stronger, so it doesn’t weaken out like it did this year,” he said. “…I’m going to start practicing and getting better, in the film room, in the weight room. I’m not going to let my teammates down like this again. Next season I’ve got to be prepared for everything.”
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