Game over, college career over, Arizona Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles turned to the crowd and waved. He made his way to the stadium steps behind the bench, finding his dad. They hugged.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet that my career here at Arizona is over,” Foles said a couple of minutes later, “but this is the way to go out — with a victory.”
Foles and the Wildcats ended the season with a 45-37 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette at Arizona Stadium on Saturday night, finishing with a 4-8 record. The final game was classic Foles.
He set another passing record — a school and conference record 560 pass attempts for a season. He tied Willie Tuitama’s school records for touchdown passes in a season (28) and for a career (67). He became the 10th player in conference history to reach 10,000 career passing yards.
None of that was the story.
That Foles went out a winner had nothing to do with the final score. It didn’t have anything to do with records.
The story was that Foles went to the coaching staff during the week and strongly suggested that he not start against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Foles wanted fifth-year senior Bryson Beirne, as close as a brother, to make his first career start.
“I felt like he deserved it,” Foles said.
“He has gone through so much throughout his career and he’s a heck of a player and he’s an amazing person. He deserves it. He really does.”
That’s Foles. He has done much that nobody ever sees. Interim coach Tim Kish called him a “consummate teammate.” You probably never saw all the trips Foles made to local schools. Or the time he spent after practice throwing to kids.
You probably didn’t notice the wristband he wore last week with the name “AMBER” written on it. That’s the name of a girl — an Arizona fan, a Foles fan — suffering from leukemia. Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, receiver Juron Criner and Foles visited her in a Phoenix hospital the night before the Nov. 19 game at Arizona State.
“I’m just proud of the person he is,” said Larry Foles, Nick’s dad.
“The record stuff comes and goes, but I hope he does well at the next level just because of the person he is off the field. He’s pretty amazing.”
Foles’ on-field stuff was pretty amazing, too.
Beirne, who quietly went about his business all season as the backup despite tearing his ACL in fall camp, lasted only one series, throwing an interception.
And then Foles, who hadn’t really taken a snap all week because of a rib contusion suffered at Arizona State, went into the game and absolutely refused to come out. He completed 33 of 43 passes for 352 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, while playing hurt.
“Nick is a warrior,” Kish said.
“He battled through something today that quite honestly, I don’t know how much he should have been out on that field. But he refused to come off. His rib situation was not good. He could not follow through on any of his passes. He just threw gutty. …
“Tremendous talent. Tremendous young man. Tremendous leader. Warrior.”
That was typified by one play in the fourth quarter, with Arizona protecting a 38-30 lead. Foles tried to scramble for a first down on third-and-8, taking on a huge hit near the first-down marker, rib injury be damned.
Foles didn’t quite make it, but, by not sliding, he got the Cats close enough to go for it on fourth-and-inches from their 37. They made it and went on to score a touchdown.
“I would probably have gotten more hurt trying to slide, so I decided to take the hit,” Foles said.
“At that point, you just have to win the game. No pain, injury, whatever. You just have to win. I wasn’t very worried about my body. I had my O-linemen there. They always pick me up.”
More often than not, it was Foles picking his teammates up. He had to work behind an all-new, all-young offensive line this season, often without the help of a supporting running game. It hasn’t been easy.
How much worse would this all have been without Foles?
“It didn’t work out the way I planned, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “We grew up. We grew closer. It was a special year, something I will always remember.
“It’s pretty emotional,” he added before leaving the field for the final time.
“I can’t thank Tucson and Arizona enough for everything they have given me. It’s a really special moment right now.”