Run, Ka’Deem, run.
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, with the game on the line, the Wildcats trying to run out the clock on third-and-5, took a handoff up the middle.
And he was gone.
There was no stopping Carey during a 35-24 victory over Utah on a night in which he carried a school-record 40 times, gaining 236 yards, the last 44 of which came on his final touch as he sprinted into the end zone for the final points with 1:30 to go.
Carey was gone, even as coach Rich Rodriguez yelled for him to get down, so the Cats could simply take a couple of victory-formation snaps and drain the remaining seconds from the game, rather than give the ball back to Utah.
“I’m sure he didn’t hear me and probably didn’t care,” Rodriguez said.
“He was going to keep running. He was going to be like Forrest Gump on that one.”
Carey, unlike the movie hero, stayed in the stadium, but the junior keeps reaching the stratosphere. As far as movie references go, he might be more like the guy who wears an “S” on his chest.
On the sideline with several minutes left, quarterback B.J. Denker was envisioning how it was all going to turn out. Give the ball to No. 25 and win the game. He already was practicing his postgame press conference.
“I told them that when you guys ask me why we won the game, it’s because we put the team on Ka’Deem’s back,” Denker said. “Then he goes and fumbles.”
Yeah, there was that.
Carey’s first fumble of the season, with Utah recovering at the Arizona 39 with 6:29 left, nearly undid the Wildcats, but the 11 sidekicks on defense took him out of the fire. The defense, protecting a 28-24 lead, forced the Utes into a 40-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-4 (hmmm … go for it there?), and Andy Phillips missed wide left.
Five plays later, Carey was running free to the end zone, making a quick cut at the line of scrimmaging and then heading due south.
“After that fumble, I just had a lot built in,” Carey said. “I felt like I let my team down. So when I got that ball and saw that crease, I said, ‘Man, I’ve got your back, team.’”
Arizona improved to 4-2 overall and picked up its first win in three Pac-12 games. Utah dropped to 4-3 and 1-3.
After slow starts at Washington and at USC, the Wildcats deftly went 80 yards on their first drive to take a 7-0 lead and got a 14-yard interception return by linebacker Marquis Flowers to make it 14-7.
UA led 20-7 at halftime before momentum totally changed within a couple minutes early in the third quarter. Johnny Jackson’s muffed punt set up Utah for a 17-yard touchdown drive, and the Utes struck quickly on their next possession on a 55-yard flea-flicker for a score.
Utah led 21-20, with Jake Smith’s missed PAT looming large.
“You have to give them credit, but we helped,” Rodriguez said.
“The muffed punt and the easy touchdown pass, we just made some easy mistakes to change the momentum over. It wasn’t like all of a sudden, they were physically dominating us. That would be more concerning.”
That score was still 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, when a 36-yard sideline pass from Denker to freshman Nate Phillips kick-started the Cats. He made the tough catch despite a pass-interference call on the play.
The catch moved the ball to the Utah 9, and Phillips, fittingly enough, scored on a 7-yard reception three plays later.
“Nate has the same kind of hunger and intensity that Ka’Deem has,” Rodriguez said.
“We saw that when we recruited him. That was a huge play, a huge catch. We had kind of not executed well, kind of puttered around a little bit, but that was a big momentum deal.”
It remained a one-possession game until Carey’s touchdown romp, his freeze-frame moment among his 40 carries, which broke the school record of 36, set by Ontiwaun Carter in 1994.
Carey’s 236 yards are the third-best total in school history, trailing his Pac-12 record 366 vs. Colorado last season and the 288 yards of Trung Canidate vs. Arizona State in 1998.
“That was a fun game,” Carey said.
“The blockers were out there giving me holes, and I just took it. B.J. had a great game spreading it out with throwing deep, getting them out of the box a little bit, getting them out of their comfort zone.”
Meanwhile, Carey, a 2012 consensus All-American, was in his comfort zone. Just feed him the dang ball.
“He’s got a certain hunger every time he plays,” Rodriguez said.
“All the great competitors have it. We have several guys like that, but Ka’Deem is one of the best I’ve ever coached.”