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The five best wins of the Mike Stoops era

Fans climb the goal posts after Arizona's home over ASU in 2004, Mike Stoops' first season. Tucson Citizen photo.

There were some good times.

Beating ranked teams. Storming the field. Climbing goal posts.

Arizona football coach Mike Stoops posted 41 victories, which wasn’t enough for him to keep his job through his eighth season, but fans will always some special moments.

Here is one opinion of the five best victories of the Stoops era (with regret, I left off the 2006 win over No. 8 Cal, because I thought some of the others on the list were more significant).

Let’s take them in chronological order:

Nov. 26, 2004 — Arizona 34, ASU 27

The Wildcats entered the game last in the nation in scoring, averaging only 13 points per game, but came up with two long scoring passes from Richard Kovalcheck. The first went 54 yards to Steve Fleming, the second was a 47-yarder to Mike Jefferson in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats kept the 18th-ranked Sun Devils at bay by coming up with five turnovers.

“(ASU) didn’t know where we were or where we were coming from,” said Arizona safety Darrell Brooks. “They were overwhelmed.”

This started Stoops’ seven-year streak of beating at least one ranked team and gave the coach something to build from after his rookie season.

Nov. 5, 2005 — Arizona 52, UCLA 14

Fans carry Willie Tuitama off the field after beating UCLA. "Right now, I'm still just shocked," he said. "It's just crazy." Photo by Francisco Medina, Tucson Citizen

The seventh-ranked Bruins were overrated, but they were 8-0 … and such a thorough whipping of a top 10 team sure felt good at Arizona Stadium.

Mike Bell ran for 153 yards. Gilbert Harris added 116 yards on the ground. Freshman receiver Mike Thomas scored two touchdowns, one on a run.

Arizona, which entered the game with a 2-6 record, stunningly led 31-7 at halftime and 45-7 by early in the second half.

True freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama, in his second career start, was carried off the field on the fans of shoulders.

“Some people call me ‘The Future,’ some call me ‘The Savior’ and some call me ‘The Chosen One,’” Tuitama said in the days after the game. “Otherwise, it’s the same ol’ me out there having fun.”

Nov. 15, 2007 — Arizona 34, Oregon 24

The national story on this Thursday night was that Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury, and that the BCS hopes of the second-ranked Ducks had been scuttled.

The local story was that this was Arizona’s third consecutive victory of the season, and it marked UA’s fourth consecutive November with a home win over a ranked team.

“November has been good to us,” Stoops said. “It is nice to show what kind of team we have at Arizona.”

A few weeks earlier, Arizona had been down 15 points in the fourth quarter at Washington, looking at the possibility of falling to 2-7 — which could have been the end of Stoops right there — but this late-season rally helped set the stage for going to a bowl in each of the next three seasons.

Dec. 20, 2008 — Arizona 31, BYU 21

The Wildcats, making their first postseason appearance in 10 years, took care of business by beating 17th-ranked BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. Willie Tuitama ended his Arizona record-setting career with 325 passing yards and two touchdowns.

“We had a goal before the season started and tonight we finally reached it,” Tuitama said. “I’ll never forget to finally be in a bowl game with this group of seniors, on this team.”

After nine consecutive non-winning seasons, the victory signified that the rebuilding part of the Stoops era was over. The challenge after this would be to find a higher level.

Dec. 5, 2009 — Arizona 21, USC 17

The Wildcats, who were coming off a 20-17 win at Arizona State (thanks for the last-second field goal, Alex Zendejas), wrapped up a berth in the Holiday Bowl with a win over the 20th-ranked Trojans.

Nick Foles hooked up with Juron Criner with a game-winning touchdown pass with 3:14 to play, a 36-yarder that Criner caught along the left sideline, turning and twisting and tight-roping into the end zone.

“It feels amazing,” Criner said. “It’s an indescribable feeling. How would you describe it if somebody asked you how it feels to rewrite history?”

It would be Stoops’ only win over USC.

Have some other thoughts about the best victories of the Stoops era? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Related: The All-Stoops team

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