By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now
Casey Skowron, wearing an Arizona football shirt with his name and jersey number on the back, walked through the parking lot to a restaurant Saturday night.
"And I could hear people whisper, 'Hey, is that Casey Skowron?' Oh my gosh, it's Casey Skowron!'" his mother, Kathy Skowron, said in a phone interview Saturday night.
It's a good time to be Casey Skowron.
There was a big celebration on 4th Avenue on Saturday night, with the Skowron family joining the families of safety Jared Tevis, defensive lineman Dan Pettinato and linebacker Haden Gregory for dinner after the Wildcats beat Washington 27-26, when Casey was hoisted on teammates' shoulders, his left index finger in the air, Arizona Stadium buzzing on his last-play, 47-yard field goal.
"I have a jersey with Casey's name and number, and people would ask me, 'Are you related to Casey? Are you Casey Skowron's mom? What a great job he did. We love him,'" Kathy said. "That happened several times."
Skowron has signed his name to Arizona's wild ride of a season, becoming, according to research from the UA athletics department, the first Wildcat since 1983 to kick a game-winning field goal when the team was trailing in the final seconds. Back then, it was a freshman named Max Zendejas who kicked a 45-yarder to beat Arizona State 17-15.
There have been other game-winning field goals since then -- Doug Pfaff's 40-yarder to stun No. 6 Oklahoma in 1989, Steve McLaughlin's 27-yarder against Stanford in 1993, Jon Prasuhn's 36-yarder at Arizona State in 1995, Nick Folk's 48-yarder vs. BYU in 2006, Alex Zendejas' 32-yarder at ASU in 2009 -- but all those came with the score tied.
And none of those guys ever scored a touchdown in the same game.
Yes, it's a good time to be Casey Skowron.
"Oh my god, everyone was just holding their breath," Kathy said of watching from the stands Saturday night. "But it was wonderful because there were fans yelling, 'Go, Casey!' Everyone was very supportive, and it was a great place to be after the USC game."
Ah, yes, the USC game.
Five weeks ago, Skowron missed a late 36-yard field goal in a 28-26 loss to the Trojans, exposing him and his family to the worst of fans' reactions.
"I don't know why people feel the need to be so hateful," Kathy said. "To wish someone dead, to wish someone committed suicide over it, I just don't understand that. The first response was so hateful, but then when people realized there was so much coming at him, the positive stuff was incredibly overwhelming."
Casey, in an interview with tucsonnewsnow.com last month, said he was able to move on from the USC game after 24 hours, but, really, it wasn't that simple. He said Saturday night in the postgame press conference that, "Every time I kick, I think about the USC game."
Maybe now he won't have to.
"Part of being a great kicker is being able to overcome things that have happened in the past and just go on to the next kick," he said.
That attitude didn't come as a surprise to his family. In the week after the USC game, Skowron talked calmly after practice, explaining what happened against USC, expressing thanks to his teammates for their support and vowing to keep working and to do better the next time he had a chance for a game-winning kick.
That time came Saturday night.
"He's an athlete," Kathy said.
"He's been playing competitive sports his entire life. He's lived with the failure and the losses and the wins. It comes with being an athlete. To continue to be successful, you have to stay focused and keep working. I'm not surprised at his response, but I certainly am proud.
"As a parent, I'm looking at this as a life skill. That's the way I look at athletics. They have a wonderful way of dealing with life."
Skowron was a soccer player before he ever tried football, briefly, as a senior at Phoenix Brophy Prep. His unlikely story at Arizona has becoming legendary; he was the women's soccer manager for a few weeks as a sophomore when he decided to attend open tryouts for the football team in 2012.
He didn't even tell his parents until it was over. Their reaction?
"Go for it!" Kathy said. "Are you kidding? He loves the competition and he wanted to be in Division I-A. That's something he felt he could do. You only live once. Go for it."
Arizona went for it late in the first half against Washington.
Skowron, lining up for a 35-yard field goal, instead took a direct snap and raced around the right end for an 18-yard touchdown. Skowron and coach Rich Rodriguez said the team put in that fake field goal in practice last week, and no one could have been more shocked as it happened than the Skowron family in the stands, because Rodriguez had insisted on complete silence about the fake.
"I had no idea," Kathy said.
"After the game, Casey said, 'I am so sorry, but I couldn't tell you.' I was watching the whole time, and then you're kind of going, 'What the heck ... oh my god.' It was great. Then I had people at the game, saying, 'Did you know he could run this fast?' 'Of course, he was a soccer player.'"
The season has been educational for Skowron, and there's more to come.
The Wildcats are 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12, still in contention for the South division title. Four things have to happen for Arizona to advance to the conference championship game: It has to win at Utah on Saturday and against Arizona State on Nov. 28, while UCLA has to beat USC this Saturday and lose at home to Stanford a week later.
With this team -- with all the drama and late-game thrills -- who knows what is going to happen?
Skowron said in the aftermath of the USC game that, "Unfortunately, dreams don't always come true."
And sometimes they do.
Sometimes, it's really good to be Casey Skowron.
Now, as always, it's on to the next one.