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New Mexico Bowl game blog: Wildcats pull off a miracle win

Arizona New Mexico Bowl

Arizona celebrates its improbable comeback win at the New Mexico Bowl. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

ALBUQUERQUE — Rich Rodriguez’s first season at Arizona ended with a miracle comeback.

Arizona, buried under an avalanche of Nevada offense, won the New Mexico Bowl 49-48 by scoring two touchdowns in the final minute on Saturday afternoon.

The Wolf Pack used a 14-point third quarter to take control after leading 31-28 at halftime. But Arizona hung around and scored on a 2-yard pass from Matt Scott to Austin Hill with 42 seconds left to make it 48-42.

Marquis Flowers recovered the onside kick, and Arizona drove 51 yards on three plays for the win. Scott hit Tyler Slavin on a 2-yard pass for the win … after the John Bonano PAT.

Arizoan finished the season at 8-5.

Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey had 145 yards and three touchdowns at halftime but he and the UA offense was mostly stuffed after the break. He gained only 27 yards on the ground after the break, but that was enough to retain his national rushing lead over Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson by 40 yards. Carey finished with 172 yards rushing.

Carey ended with 1,929 rushing yards for the season.

Be back with more after the game …

* * *

Nevada settles for a 25-yard field goal with 1:48 to go to take a 48-35 lead.

* * *

Now, the Cats are running out of time. They have to punt from its 10 with 6:27 to go, still down by 10 points.

* * *

Cats hanging on. They force Nevada to punt and will take over at their 5 with 7:01 to play.

* * *

And we might have our defensive play of the game.

Arizona goes for it on fourth-and-7 from the Nevada 36 with 9:26 left — the right decision — but the execution is lacking. Matt Scott underthrows a deep pass over the middle to Garic Wharton, and Duke Williams picks off the pass around the 10 yard-line.

* * *

Nevada’s offensive stars Cody Fajardo and Stefphon Jefferson are out of the game (Fajardo took a hit to the head from Shaw Richardson), and Arizona forces a three-and-out.

* * *

Can’t think of anything Arizona needed more than this — a quick score. Matt Scott strikes deep to Austin Hill for 63-yard score to bring UA within 45-35 with 14:44 to play. Lots of yards to go yet.

The 80 combined points is a scoring record in New Mexico Bowl history, such as it is. This is the bowl’s seventh game.

* * *

End of third quarter. Cats need a big comeback. They trail 45-28, facing second-and-10 from their 37.

* * *

Nevada scores on 15-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that took 6:26 off the clock. Cody Fajardo keeps for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 45-28. Not only is the Pack extending the lead, but it is taking time off the clock that Ka’Deem Carey could use to reach 2,000 yards.

* * *

Arizona just can’t stop Nevada. The Pack methodically marching and taking time off the clock. Nevada picks up fourth-and-1 at UA 23, taking more life out of Arizona’s chances.

* * *

Matt Scott forcing the issue, as he did late in the season. He’s picked off at the Nevada 15 while trying to get the ball to Austin Hill.

Nevada starts the drive with a staggering 30 first downs.

* * *

Arizona’s defense on its heels again, dazzled by the multiplicity of the Nevada offense and QB Cody Fajardo. On a play fake, he finds Richy Turner all alone downfield for a 33-yard score. The Pack goes up 38-28 with 9:19 to go in the third quarter.

* * *

Announcement in press box reminding us we can vote for a defensive MVP of this game. Let’s pass and give two out next season.

* * *

ESPN has been showing multiple replays of a sideline fight between Arizona teammates Tevin Hood and Cody Ippolito. Both have been taken out of the game. Hood is the starting tackle, and his tag-team partner Sione Tuihalamaka left i the firdt quarter with an injury.

Senior Chris Merrill is among those filling in at nose tackle.

* * *

Halftime RB tracker: Ka’Deem Carey 145 yards at half, 1,902 for season. Stefphon Jefferson 129 yards at half, 1,832 for season.

* * *

The first half is the shootout we all expected (and then some), with Nevada kicking a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the half for a 31-28 lead. Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo having himself a day, with 154 yards passing and 124 rushing, often picking up key third downs.

Arizona will get the ball to start the second half.

* * *

Ka’Deem Carey is now dominating this game. He rushed for 45 yards on the latest UA scoring drive, including a 28-yard run in which it appeared he would be stopped behind the line of scrimmage. He stepped out of a would-be tackle and weaved down the field to the 9. One player later, he took a handoff, cut outside, cut again and scored his third TD of the season.

The game is tied at 28 with 4:22 to go in the half.

Carey is at 1,902 rushing yards this season.

* * *

In-game injuries have further depleted Arizona’s defense. The last group out there included this patch-work of walk-ons/freshmen: Keoni Bush-Loo, C.J. Dozier, Blake Brady and Vince Miles … and little-used senior Chris Merrill at nose tackle.

No surprise: Nevada marches for a go-ahead touchdown, as Stefphon Jefferson scores on a 14-yard run.

Nevada leads 28-12 with 5:57 to go before half.

* * *

We’re starting over. Arizona has reeled off 21 consecutive points, helped by two turnovers from the defense. Ka’Deem Carey scores from 1-yard out for his 22nd rushing TD of the season, breaking the school record set by Art Luppino in 1954.

Carey has 98 yards rushing … and there is still 10:23 to go in the first quarter. He’s at 1,855 for the season; 2,000 is definitely within reach.

* * *

RB tracker with 12:46 to go in second quarter: Ka’Deem Carey, 1,826 yards. Stefphon Jefferson, 1,770. Carey is plus-2 on the day in the national rushing race.

* * *

Arizona on the comeback trail after the interception by Shaquille Richardson, driving 71 yards for a touchdown, capped by a 1-yard Matt Scott run.

* * *

End of first quarter, Nevada leads 21-7.

Catching up here …

Shaq Richardson picks off a deep pass near the end zone late in the quarter and brings it back to the UA 29 before stumbling and falling. Turf-monster. It really was a much-needed interception and stop for the UA defense.

Before that, LB Marquis Flowers left the game with an injury, leaving Arizona with two true freshman LBs in the game — C.J. Dozier and Keoni Bush-Loo.

One more note: Ka’Deem Carey has 21 rushing touchdowns, tying the school record for a season.

A wild shootout is underway.

* * *

Not too early to call this a critical moment. Arizona goes for it on fourth-and-2 from the Nevada 25, and Matt Scott keeps the ball, running right, cutting inside and squirming for a 4-yard gain. One play later, Ka’Deem Carey blasts through the middle for a 21-yard score to make it 21-7 with 2:11 to go in the first quarter.

* * *

When is the hoops tip-off? Nevada scores on a 17-pass from Cody Fajardo to Zach Sudfeld to make it 14-0, then Jared Baker fumbled on the kickoff return, and the Pack scores again on one play — a 28-yard pass to Sudfeld.

Wow … it’s 21-0 Nevada with 4:29 to go in the first quarter. If the Cats don’t wake up now, you might as well start the buses.

* * *

Tweets former UA running back Nic Grigsby, a former No. 5 who taks issue with the non-tackling of CB Shaq Richardson: Shaq u got my number on and not wearing it right! #makeatackle!

* * *

Arizona DT Sione Tuihalamaka needs a lot of help to hobble off the field after being tended to by UA medical personal with 7:40 left in the first quarter. Looks like a left knee injury, potentially serious.

* * *

Nice play by true freshman safety Wayne Capers Jr., who stuffs Stefphon Jefferson for a loss of 2 yards on third-and-1 from the UA 44. The Pack had been knifing through the UA defense until that point. Nevada then punts into the end zone, and Arizona takes over at its 20, looking to tie the game.

* * *

Arizona’s first drive ends on a Dan Buckner dropped pass that would have gone for a first down. Nevada comes back out. The Cats have to show they can slow down the run because Nevada will be persistent and won’t quit on the ground, even if it hits a rough patch.

* * *

Nevada makes it look ridiculously easy on its opening drive, with RB Stefphon Jefferson picking up 41 yards on four carries, including going 16 yards up the middle for the score. Nevada up 7-0 with 12:12 to go in the first quarter.

RB watch: Jefferson has 1,744 yards. Ka’Deem Carey at 1,757 and coming to bat.

* * *

Freshman walk-on Vince Miles continues to start at FS for Jourdon Grandon.

* * *

Arizona wins the toss and defers the choice to the second half. Nevada and RB Stefphon Jefferson get first chance to make a statement in what should be a shootout.

* * *

Tweets Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com: In today’s New Mexico Bowl, keep an eye on #Arizona WR Dan Buckner vs. #Nevada CB Khalid Wooten, both project as late round picks

* * *

Arizona starting Spur safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant is out for today’s game. Bondurant had been considered questionable because of an ankle injury.

Bondurant is third on the team with 74 tackles and has been one of the defense’s top playmakers. The sophomore has 11.5 tackles for loss and seven pass break-ups. Without him, the Cats get even younger on defense, with true freshman Wayne Capers Jr. listed as his backup.

* * *

You might not recognize your Cats today. Red helmets, blue jerseys, red pants. A unique combination that should never be repeated.

* * *

ALBUQUERQUE — It has been cold in Albuquerque in the past few days, with sub-freezing temperatures, and I peeked out of the hotel window this morning looking for snow.

No snow.

There could be some of that white stuff later tonight, well after the Wildcats are snugly back in Tucson. As for the game, the temps should be somewhere in the high 30s for kickoffs, warming up to the mid-40s by the time one of the coaches hoists the hand-crafted Native American clay pot that goes to the winner of the New Mexico Bowl.

Arizona and Nevada are each 7-5, and the Wildcats will be looking to match their most wins in a season since 1998.

“Some people didn’t think we were going to barely win six,” said senior receiver Dan Buckner, “and here we go, trying to get No. 8.”

Here is some pregame reading over breakfast:

My game prediction

The opponent’s view: Nevada tries to bookend season with wins over Pac-12 teams

Arizona-Nevada: Five things to watch

Arizona football notes: Survey says, Wildcats win the game before the game

Ka’Deem Carey and the quest for 2,000 yards

Arizona injury report: Senior DE Dominique Austin to get one more shot

Ka’Deem Carey vs. Stefphon Jefferson: The game within the game

Last stand: Arizona’s beleaguered defense will try to stop the Pack

Scott Terrell: Incredi-bowl: Rich Rodriguez and Arizona Wildcats look for fitting end to fine season

Greg Hansen’s Mr. Football column at the Arizona Daily Star

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