Arizona Wildcats senior safety Robert Golden saw Washington receiver James Johnson catch the ball at the 15-yard line and then …
“I was going in for the kill shot and he started bobbling the ball,” Golden said.
“The ball just happened to pop out. I had the reactions and caught the ball, made some moves and got to the end zone.”
Golden left out some exciting details between catching the ball for an interception and hitting the purple paydirt of Husky Stadium. He called it the best play he has ever made. It’s the signature play of Arizona’s 2-6 season.
Let’s start at the beginning of the return, which really has to do with his mindset.
“Every time I get the ball, I try to score,” Golden said.
That’s something engrained from his days at Edison High School in Fresno, Calif., where his teammates included cornerback Cliff Harris, who scored five touchdowns last season for Oregon, four as a punt returner.
“Every time we touched the ball (in high school), we tried to score,” Golden said.
When Golden caught the ball against Washington at the Arizona 9-yard-line, he was trapped along the sideline, and there were a couple of Huskies in the area. It looked like it would be a short return for Golden, but he eluded two tacklers at about the 19.
He kept moving forward to about the 24, where he put on the brakes … and three Washington players whizzed past.
“I just tried to do all my moves I used to do in high school and bring them to college,” he said.
At this point, Golden had something cooking.
He circled back and started to head across field to his left, splitting two more Washington would-be tacklers. At this point, he already had made seven players miss. Continuing across field at about the 30, Golden was too quick for a diving Washington offensive lineman, who was left eating turf.
Now, Golden had a lot of green in front of him and a wall of blockers. Safety Marquis Flowers buried the last Washington player who had a really good shot at Golden at just past midfield.
Seemingly home free, Golden slowed up. He wasn’t showboating, he was beginning to cramp up. But he said he wasn’t going to pitch the ball to a teammate; this was his to take into the end zone.
“I kind of ran out of gas,” he said.
“It was a long drive they had been on, and then making all them moves and trying to cut all the way back across the field kind of took a lot out of me.”
Golden, now well beyond the left hashmarks, had two Arizona blockers ahead of him. Defensive end Mohammed Usman took out a Husky to the right. Cornerback Trevin Wade was behind an ever-slowing Golden.
“Run, run, run!” Wade exhorted.
“I am!” Golden yelled back.
Wade shielded one more Husky in pursuit … and that was that. Golden was safely into the end zone for a 91-yard score, too exhausted to celebrate. He just dropped the ball, staggered around a bit and then bent over at the waist.
Interim coach Tim Kish on Monday recounted what he was thinking during the return.
“I thought it took two-and-a-half days to get into the end zone,” he said with a laugh. “I never saw anything that lasted so long in my life. That cracked me up. I was just sitting there, going, ‘Please, keep going …’
“I watched it again on film, and it seemed like it was in slow motion.”
Golden’s journey, from catching the ball to crossing the goal line with 10:40 left in the third quarter, took 20 seconds and, as he said, a lot out of him.
Arizona sent him off the field to be treated with an IV for severe dehydration.
What does that feel like?
“Brain cramp. A whole body lock,” Golden said. “Just like a terrible migraine pretty much.”
Kish said when Golden returned to the sideline, he wanted to go back into the game, but the coach said, “we weren’t in a situation where we needed to do that with him at that point.”
Golden was limited in practice early this week but is fine to play Saturday against Utah at Arizona Stadium, beginning at 4 p.m.
He will be beaming about that interception return for a long time.
“I knew I wasn’t going to go down,” he said.