Gimino: Arizona's season finally takes happy turn - Tucson News Now

Gimino: Arizona's season finally takes happy turn

Arizona fans celebrate the win over Utah (photo by Damien Alameda) Arizona fans celebrate the win over Utah (photo by Damien Alameda)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Funny thing, this college football.

Just when you thought you were out, Arizona drew you back into this previously unhappy season, whose prior high points might have been hype videos, chrome red helmets and College GameDay on campus.

And then the Pac-12 season started.

Since that day back in late September against UCLA, it has been injury after injury, five losses against only two wins, and general grumbling about how Arizona's season could possibly have wandered this far off the tracks after the Wildcats won the Pac-12 South last year.

But coach Rich Rodriguez, in case you haven't noticed, is a bit of a wizard.

Maybe you have noticed, but forgot.

Saturday night was your big, fat reminder.

The Wildcats conjured up Senior Night magic, knocking off No. 10 Utah 37-30 in double overtime, ending a three-game skid, making Arizona bowl eligible at 6-5 and launching the team head-first into a Territorial Cup matchup in Tempe to end the regular season.

Suddenly, you don't dread that game against Arizona State anymore.

Might even be kind of fun.

Arizona has now beaten a top 10 team in each of Rodriguez's four seasons. The Cats knocked off No. 10 USC in 2012, No. 5 Oregon in 2013 and the No. 2 Ducks last season.

"I'm not going to say it's the best (win), but it's one of the best since I've been here, simply because I don't think a lot of folks thought it would happen," Rodriguez said of the win over Utah.

"You heard a lot about Utah having a chance to be in the College Football Playoff, and rightfully so. They deserved that. They earned that. But they still had to beat Arizona, and our guys came to play."

They came to play despite being without All-American linebacker Scooby Wright for the ninth time this season, despite not getting much contribution from running back Nick Wilson (who has a scant 12 carries in the past five games), and despite losing quarterback Anu Solomon in the fourth quarter after he was playing his best game of the season.

Solomon completed 17 of 27 passes for 277 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, and he also ran for a season-high 86 yards, easily his friskiest game of the season with his legs. But a vicious hit to the head by defensive end Jason Fanaika at the end of a 10-yard run sent Solomon to the sideline with 9:25 left. The hit was not called for a targeting penalty, because, really, who the heck knows how or why refs call targeting penalties these days?

"When he started to come out and I said, 'Are you OK?' and he didn't answer, it was time for the trainers," Rodriguez said. "And the trainers said, 'Hey, he's not going to be back in."

In came backup Jerrard Randall, whose first 14 plays consisted of no points, only 44 yards and one interception.

And then came the first play of the second overtime.

Randall liked what he saw with slot receiver Nate Phillips being single covered by defensive back Boobie Hobbs (which is totally not a name I just made up), and the senior fired into the end zone, over good coverage from Hobbs, and into the left arm of Phillips, who cradled the ball while falling on his back and, oh yeah, making Arizona's play of the year.

"I didn't even know he caught it at first," Randall said. "I couldn't get nothing all night throwing the ball, but I got that one touchdown and it was amazing."

Amazing, this college football.

With Arizona protecting that 37-30 lead, Utah reached the 8-yard line on its possession of the second overtime, but nose guard Sani Fuiamaono and linebacker Sir Thomas Jackson combined for sack on second down.

When Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw incomplete into the end zone on fourth-and-16 from the 17, Arizona had won and thousands of fans came pouring onto the field.

The Wildcats now have a lead for their season highlight video.

Well, at least until next Saturday.

Who knows if Solomon will be able to go against Arizona State. Without him, things will get tough against an aggressive Sun Devils defense. But it's an anything-goes rivalry and let's just go ahead and invoke the words of former UA coach Dick Tomey for the first time this week: "Arizona-ASU is a season unto itself."

Should be fun ... and now, after the win over Utah, you can't rule out the possibility of Arizona getting to 7-5 and then even 8-5 in a bowl game.

"It's a great win for us. Now the guys feel good," Rodriguez said. "But for as big as that one was, our rivalry game is always the biggest."

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