TEMPE — A couple of warm-ups, and Alex Zendejas was good to go.
Arizona had the ball, had made the miracle play, had the chance to beat rival Arizona State. On the sideline, snapper Jason Bertoni sent a couple of balls back to holder Keenyn Crier and kicker Alex Zendejas went through his steps.
Alex Zendejas kicks the game-winning 32-yard field goal against ASU/photo by Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic
Good to go.
Bertoni and Crier and Zendejas slapped hands, bumped helmets … and waited. Arizona was tied with ASU, 17-17, in the final minute and would kill the clock with five seconds left on fourth down.
Here he was. Alex Zendejas in Sun Devil Stadium, and if he’s heard the stories once about uncle Max Zendejas, he’s heard them 100 times. How Max beat ASU in this stadium in 1985 with a 57-yarder and then a 32-yarder with 1:43 to go. How Max beat ASU in this stadium with a 45-yarder as time expired in 1983.
And now, Alex.
Alex, who had missed from 24 yards in the fourth quarter a week earlier in a loss to Oregon. Alex, who has kicked several attempts low in his first season as the starter. Alex, who had a field goal try hit a linemen in the back of his helmet early in the season.
“I just went out there with confidence,” he said. “That’s what you have to have, being a kicker. And I wanted to prove myself.
“I had a good week of practice. I wanted to bounce back from last week, definitely.”
Then it was time. Good snap, good hold, good kick.
Sprinkling more Zendejas magic on the Sun Devil Stadium turf, Alex delivered a 20-17 victory on Saturday night, sending a 32-yard field goal thorugh the rain drops, giving the Wildcats their seventh win of the season, keeping alive the possibility of a tie for second in the Pac-10.
“I tell you what,” Max said in a phone interview with TucsonCitizen.com sports network partner Wildaboutazcats.com a few minutes after the game. “I was more nervous than when I used to kick. I was confident he was going to make it. When he kicked it, I saw him lift his hands like I used to do.
“As soon as hit it, he knew it was going in. He hit it a little to the right, but I knew it was going in. That was one hell of a game.”
With all that pressure at the end, the family legacy to live up to, Alex said he wasn’t even nervous.
“Happy,” he said. “Happy to have the opportunity to make a big kick.”
Why would he be nervous? He’s only been preparing for this moment his entire life.
“It’s funny. I have,” he said.
“Especially coming here. It was a weird feeling I had today coming in here. I don’t want to sound cocky or whatever, but I knew something was going to come down to me. I knew the way I played today would effect the outcome.”
After the kick, as the Wildcats ran onto the field in celebration, center Colin Baxter and coach Mike Stoops twirled around in a big hug, and Stoops embraced special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt, who knows a few things about strange special teams play at Sun Devil Stadium.
ASU's Kyle Williams reacts after muffing a punt catch that was recovered by Arizona, setting up the winning field goal/photo by Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic
He was on Arizona’s 1987 team, when ASU punter Mike Schuh dropped a snap that Arizona recovered, setting up a game-tying field goal that felt like a win.
Now, Kyle Williams — who had made a super, leaping catch in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 17 with 2:02 left — joins the club of infamy.
ASU forced the Wildcats to punt from their 38 with 1:10 left and then the bounces started going Arizona’s way. Hammerschmidt, in a joking mood after the game, said he called for the “duck hook left” punt from Crier. Hey, good call. Williams moved up to his right to field the punt, and called for a fair catch.
Arizona gunner Mike Turner, who had beaten two blockers at the line of scrimmage by going out wide around them, was there waiting.
“I thought he was going to catch it and I was getting ready to bang him,” Turner said. “His hands weren’t ready for the tuck and his eyes got big. The ball came down and he was looking up still. Somehow, I was in great position.”
Turner recovered at the ASU 22 … and the Wildcats, who have felt as if more bounces have gone against them than for them, were in great position.
“I guess we were due one,” defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said, walking off the field.
Arizona has played six down-to-the-wire games, winning three and losing three. What more can you expect? As head coach Mike Stoops has said all season, things have a way of evening out.
If that’s true, maybe someday a Zendejas actually will miss a kick late in a game against ASU.
Then again, maybe not.
Related link from TucsonCitizen.com:
UA-ASU game blog: Stoops: ‘A lot of difference three points will make in your life.’