TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon rolled to the right to create time and space, planted his feet and heaved the ball into the desert air.
Austin Hill jostled for position as he ran down the field, reaching the back corner of the end zone just in time to trace the arc of the ball.
It was headed right for him.
Hoping not to get knocked out of the way, Hill planted his feet and reached up, bracing for the impact that never came. Surrounded by gold-clad Cal defenders, the senior somehow came down with the nugget.
Hail Mary, answered.
A team known for snatching victory from seemingly hopeless circumstances, the Wildcats completed their most unimaginable comeback yet, capping a 36-point fourth quarter with a 47-yard pass from Solomon to Hill on the game’s last play.
Arizona 49, California 45. Call it the Hill Mary Game.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like that,” Cal quarterback Jared Goff said.
Few have, though Arizona has been close.
In three seasons under coach Rich Rodriguez, the Wildcats have had a penchant for rallying behind their score-on-any-play offense.
Arizona had a big one in 2012, Rodriguez’s first season, rallying from a 15-point deficit to knock off No. 10 USC. The Wildcats followed that up with a stunning victory over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, scoring twice in the final 42 seconds for the 49-48 win.
This one will fit into the where-were-you-when-it-happened category for Arizona fans.
Staggered by two early quick touchdowns by Cal, Arizona trailed 28-6 at halftime and was still down 18 heading into the fourth quarter.
What followed was one of the greatest offensive shows in Wildcats’ history.
Playing with a calm and confidence beyond his years, Solomon marched Arizona down the field for one score after another. A redshirt freshman, he threw four of his five touchdown passes in the quarter, including two to Cayleb Jones, and finished with 520 yards on 47-of-73 passing — all school records.
“He never panics,” Rodriguez said.
Neither did his teammates.
Even after getting their offense rolling, the Wildcats trailed Cal 45-30 with just over 5 minutes left.
Arizona cut into the lead on a 6-yard run by Terris Jones-Grigsby and recovered an onside kick on the second try; Cal was called for a penalty on the first attempt.
The Wildcats cashed in quickly with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Solomon to Jones, but failed on the 2-point try.
Cal seemed to have the game in hand after gaining a first down on a pass interference call against Arizona.
Even when the drive stalled, the Bears had a chance to salt the win away, sending James Langford out for a 47-yard field goal.
He hooked it left, giving the Wildcats a final chance, though a slim one: 52 seconds left, starting on their own 29-yard line.
After completing a couple of short passes, Solomon hit Hill on a 20-yard completion with less than 10 seconds left. With the clock stopped to move the chains, the Wildcats raced to the line of scrimmage and Solomon spiked the ball just before the clock ran out.
Despite packing the end zone with defensive players, the Bears couldn’t come up with the ball on the final play. It dropped right into Hill’s hands, sending Arizona’s players racing across the field in celebration and Cal’s solemnly walking off toward the locker room.
“You have to get over it,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Football games are 60 minutes for a reason.”
Hill was quiet for most of Saturday night’s game before catching a 9-yard touchdown pass from Solomon early in the fourth quarter. He kept catching passes, including the 20-yarder to set up the final play, and found himself at the bottom of a celebratory pile of teammates after his improbable grab in the end zone.
“There’s nothing like a Hail Mary to finish the game,” he said after finishing with eight catches for 127 yards.
Make that a Hill Mary.
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