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Arizona can hold ‘heads up high’ but lousy fourth quarter dooms Cats

Juron Criner

How different would the fourth quarter have been had Nick Foles connected on this third-down pass to Juron Criner in the end zone? Photo by Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

Let’s start at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Score tied. Arizona poised to take the lead against Washington.

Feeling pretty good right about then, huh?

The Wildcats’ frustrating season, which had been given a double-shot of gusto after the firing of coach Mike Stoops, still had a chance to turn around at that point. A win at Washington would be two in a row under interim coach Tim Kish and fire up talk of sneaking into the postseason at 6-6.

Instead, Arizona took a 42-31 loss at Husky Stadium.

Back to the beginning of the fourth quarter; it was second-and-goal from the Huskies’ 5-yard line.

Freshman Ka’Deem Carey lost 1 yard on a run. Nick Foles missed Juron Criner in the end zone on third down.

It was a missed opportunity, Arizona settled for a 24-yard field goal from John Bonano — at least he’s taken most of the nail-biting out of place-kicks in the past two weeks — and the Cats had a 31-28 lead.

On Washington’s ensuing possession, an increasingly gassed Arizona defense came up with an interception, as Trevin Wade picked off a Keith Price pass at the UA 29.

Something, anything, from the offense, would have been huge.

On second-and-1, Keola Antolin was stopped for a loss of 3 yards. Foles was incomplete on third down. Punt.

Kish called it the “defining moment” of the game.

“That would have been a critical time for us to get a first down and take some time off the clock,” Kish said.

“It was unfortunate that we didn’t get that first down. If we could have done anything … that would been a huge momentum boost for us.”

Nothing good happened for Arizona after that point. The defense broke. Washington went 81 yards for a touchdown.

The Cats were across midfield on their next drive, but Criner fumbled at the 43 after a short catch, and the Huskies took over at midfield.

Washington scored again. Foles, looking to recapture the 2010 late-game magic, was intercepted at the UW 18.

“We had our opportunities in the second half,” Kish said. “We just couldn’t get the critical stop we needed to.”

Yeah, but the Cats showed much of the sloppy play — and lack of ability to control the opposing running back — that contributed to the mid-season demise of Stoops. But the Huskies were also just a better team.

“I never saw any quit in our guys,” Kish said. “We can hold our heads up high and get ready to play next week.”

Arizona’s defense, which played short-handed against Washington because of four suspensions in the secondary, just doesn’t have the horses. At least the Cats have looked more active and aggressive in the past two weeks under Kish, and true freshman Tramayne Bondurant has been a playmaker as a hybrid safety/linebacker.

“There is some good and bad in everything, and we know that whether we won the game or lost it,” Kish said. “We have to get back and see where we can get better. We just have to build on the positives.”

To this point, Kish and the coaching staff have coaxed a more spirited effort from Arizona. The Cats have two winnable games coming up — Homecoming vs. Utah and at Colorado — before the rivalry at Arizona State. But the season’s damage is mostly done.

There is always something to play for, but Arizona heads into the final third of the season with a 2-6 record, giving fans plenty of reason to tune out. The Wildcats will be running out the clock while athletic director Greg Byrne is on the clock to hire a head coach.

Was Mike Bellotti somewhere watching Saturday night’s game with interest?

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