TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — California coach Sonny Dykes shrugged and apologized, and said his team would learn from what had just happened.
After Arizona scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and won on a last-second Hail Mary, there wasn’t much else he could do.
Anu Solomon hit Austin Hill on a 47-yard Hail Mary on the game’s final play and Arizona scored 19 points in the final 3:30 to send the stunned Bears to a 49-45 loss Saturday night.
“We’re sorry we didn’t find a way to win the ball game tonight,” Dykes said. “But I told them it won’t ever happen again.”
The Wildcats had pulled a head-shaker like this once before, scoring twice in the final 46 seconds to beat Nevada 49-48 in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl.
This one may have topped it.
A record-setting performance by the quarterback. A recovered onside kick after getting a second chance. A scrambling final drive. The comeback capped by a senior who was injured last season pulling down a desperation heave in the back of the end zone.
Sheer joy on one side, utter deflation on the other.
“I don’t think I’ve been through a game like that,” Goff after his team’s 15th straight Pac-12 loss. “It’s so painful, but we have to get through it.”
Cal (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) threatened to turn Arizona’s whiteout into a blowout, deflating the Wildcats and their white-shirt-wearing fans with two quick scores and a 22-point halftime lead behind Jared Goff.
Arizona (4-0, 1-0) charged back behind Solomon, who threw for a school-record 520 yards and had four of his five touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats recovered an onside kick after Cal was called for a batting penalty and pulled within 2 after Solomon hit Cayleb Jones on a 15-yard scoring pass.
Arizona got the ball back with less than a minute left and pulled off the miracle when Hill, who missed last season with a torn ACL, brought the ball down between five Cal defenders.
Solomon shook off a pair of first half interceptions to complete 47 of 73 passes, both school records, and Hill caught eight passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including the huge one at the end.
“It’s so improbable, at first you’re so exhilarated, then you’re like, ‘did that just happen?'” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Behind Goff, who threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, Cal led 31-16 heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when Arizona kicked its high-octane offense in gear, marching for one score after another.
Solomon hit Hill on a 9-yard touchdown pass, then Jones on a 16-yarder after Khalfani Muhammad scored on a 50-yard touchdown run. Muhammad scored again on a 6-yard run to put Cal seemingly in good position, up 45-30 with just over 5 minutes left.
But the Wildcats kept coming.
Arizona marched for a 6-yard touchdown run by Terris Jones-Grigsby then recovered a second try at an onside kick after Cal’s batting penalty. Jones, who had 13 catches for 186 yards, pulled down a 15-yard pass from Solomon with 2:44 left, but the Wildcats’ 2-point try failed.
With a chance to put the game away, Cal couldn’t finish it off. James Langford hooked a 47-yard field goal left, turning the ball over to Arizona at its own 29-yard line with 52 seconds left.
Solomon completed a couple of short passes before finding Hill on a 20-yard pass that moved the chains and briefly stopped the clock. Arizona raced to the line and Solomon spiked the ball to set up the final shot at the end zone.
Hill came down with it, sending the Wildcats streaming from their sideline and the Bears collapsing to the turf.
“I told our guys, we always play 60 minutes,” Rodriguez said.
They needed them all after California hit them with a pair of body blows early, scoring a pair of touchdowns on drives that took four plays and 56 combined seconds.
The Bears built on that lead, too, going up 28-6 after Goff threw three touchdown passes and Daniel Lasco, who had 123 yards, scored on a 44-yard run.
Cal still appeared to be in good shape in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 18 points on Langford’s 45-yard field goal.
They just couldn’t close it out, unable to stop the charging Wildcats or find Hill in the back of the end zone.
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