No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucsonby Javier Morales on Jul. 26, 2012, under Sports
In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 37 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 37 days away.
SCORE: USC Trojans 48, Arizona Wildcats 41
DATE: Nov. 13, 1982
SITE: Arizona Stadium, 55,110 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Although it was a loss for Arizona, this game not only merits a ranking, it has to be considered one of the most exciting games to be played at Arizona Stadium. Think of it this way: How many games have four interceptions returned for a touchdown? USC had three of them off UA quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe, tying an NCAA record. Tunnicliffe still managed to pass for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the wild game that gave the Wildcats the distinction at the time for having the most points for a losing team in Pac-10 history.
The game also had postseason implications for Arizona, which was 5-2-1 and on a four-game winning streak — started with a 16-13 win at No. 9 Notre Dame. USC, 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference after the win, was ineligible for postseason play because it was in the first year of a two-year NCAA probation for recruiting violations. The loss to the Trojans followed by an upset 13-7 defeat at previously winless Oregon the following week effectively knocked Arizona out of a potential bowl.
The 48-41 loss to USC also featured four lost fumbles by the Trojans — three in the first quarter — and an interception for a return for a touchdown — also in the first quarter — by Arizona linebacker Steve Boadway. The Wildcats mustered only a 13-3 lead after those four USC miscues, settling for field goals of 19 and 26 yards by Max Zendejas (who also missed from 43 yards). USC’s defense, which ranked in the top five of most of the major national defensive categories, held firm.
The turnovers were practically even for both teams, but USC came up with two that had the most impact on the outcome.
The first was a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Joey Browner on the final play of the first half, turning a 20-17 Arizona lead into a 24-20 Trojan advantage. The second key Arizona gaffe came with 5:47 left in the game, the Trojans clinging to a 41-34 lead (after having been on top, 41-20) and the Wildcats at the USC 45. On third and one, Arizona tailback Vance Johnson went 4 yards for a first down, but USC’s Darrel Hopper ripped the ball from his grasp and went 41 yards the other way for the touchdown. It was ruled an intercepted fumble, and it gave USC a piece of the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a game.
Arizona got within a touchdown again and was going to get the ball back in good field position with two minutes left. However, an official made a controversial call that Arizona’s Al “Bubba” Gross threw an elbow at USC punter David Pryor on the play, USC retained possession and ran out the clock.
“There were 100 key plays tonight,” USC coach John Robinson told reporters after the game. “There were so many dramatic plays it was hard to keep track. We deserved to be ahead at the end. The game was out of control. It was a wild type that didn’t follow a script.”
Arizona coach Larry Smith said in his press conference: “It was a great football game. I’m sure everyone got their money’s worth. We made a lot of mistakes and probably deserved to get beat.”
No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (TucsonCitizen.com)