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August 31, 2007Twenty-four hours from kickoff, and who can blame Wildcat fans for being a little anxious.
The anticipation following a 6-6 momentum-builder of a 2006 season has never been higher.
We gazed into the football-shaped, crystal ball to see just what 2007 has in store for the Cats:
Game 1: Arizona 21, BYU 17
In a nail-biter in Provo, "Air Zona" comes out smokin' with 21 first-half points before holding off a furious Cougar rally. Mormon linebacker Spencer Larsen spoils the comeback with a late interception against his church mates to seal the Arizona victory. The UA defense registers three turnovers and five sacks.
Game 2: Arizona 31, NAU 10
A driving rainstorm fails to slow Willie Tuitama and the Cats as the strong-armed quarterback throws for 325 yards, including TD strikes to Mike Thomas, Anthony Johnson and freshman tight end Rob Gronkowski. Former Sunnyside product Xavier Smith dedicates the game to his late mother after rushing for a career-high 162 yards and 2 TDs.
Game 3: Arizona 30, New Mexico 0
A shutout is just what the doctor ordered for the Cats, whose defense sets the tone on the opening drive when Antoine Cason steps in front of a pass and takes it to the house for a quick 7-0 lead. Wilrey Fontenot also gets in on the act, picking up a second-half fumble and returning it 51 yards for another defensive TD.
Game 4: Cal 23, Arizona 20
The Cats miss a chance at shocking the Pac-10 when Jason Bondzio's 42-yard field goal try sails wide right in the waning moments. Arizona's ball-control offense keeps the Bears and QB Nate Longshore off the field as Chris Jennings pounds out 132 rushing yards. For the first time all year, however, Arizona fails to force a turnover. Conversely, An ill-time interception by Tui leads to Cal's decisive score.
Game 5: Arizona 17, Washington St. 13
A third-quarter thumb injury to Tuitama gives the Cougars a little hope, but once again, Jennings bails out the Wildcats with a late TD plunge to snap a 10-10 tie in a driving rainstorm at Arizona Stadium. The game is delayed 30 minutes by lightning, but fails to dampen the UA crowd, which serenades coach Mike Stoops with chants of "Rain-Man, Rain-Man."
Game 6: Arizona 35, Oregon State 16
With Tuitama sidelined, veteran Kris Heavner pilots the Cats to their fifth win in six tries by throwing for two and running for two touchdowns. Arizona gets 150 yards receiving from Thomas, who scores on a reverse. The defense allows only a second-half field goal. Heavner defuses talk of a QB controversy by assuring scribes that Tui will be back next week for the Trojans.
Game 7: USC 28, Arizona 21
The Wildcats give the top-ranked Trojans all they can handle in a game that comes down to a fourth-quarter touchdown drive aided by a questionable late-hit call on UA defensive end Louis Holmes. USC scores the game-winner with 3 minutes left, and Tuitama is sacked as time expires with the Cats 22 yards from the end zone. USC coach Pete Carroll calls the UA defense the best he's seen this year.
Game 8: Arizona 42, Stanford 7
Tuitama silences the critics who doubted his toughness by throwing for 412 yards and 4 TDs against a depleted Stanford secondary. Gronkowski is his favorite target with 7 catches, including 2 for short scores. Holmes is the Pac-10's defensive player of the week with 4 sacks while middle linebacker Ronnie Palmer scores on a tipped interception.
Game 9: Washington 23, Arizona 21
Four turnovers, including a fumble by Smith late in the game, allow the Huskies to pull off the upset for only their third win. The Cats are as sluggish as the cold, drizzly Seattle weather after the big home victory, and get caught looking ahead to undefeated UCLA. The win momentarily quiets critics calling for Tyrone Willingham's firing.
Game 10: Arizona 13, UCLA 10
In a rare defensive struggle in the Pac-10 before an ABC-TV audience, the Wildcats have just enough offense to rally from a 10-0 deficit against the once-beaten Bruins. Bondzio's 27-yarder and Thomas' 34-yard TD catch from Tuitama late in the third quarter are the only UA scoring as Arizona assures itself of a winning record and its first bowl trip since 1998.
Game 11: Arizona 23, Oregon 21
The Thursday night atmosphere at Arizona Stadium is electric for the ESPN cameras as Cason is the star all night. Three interceptions, including a game-clincher in the final moments, propel the Cats to their eighth win as the Zona Zoo swarms the field. Kirk Herbstreit proclaims UA as the surprise team of the year, touting Stoops as coach of the year and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops as the No. 1 candidate for a head coaching job.
Game 12: Arizona 34, ASU 24
In a relatively high-scoring game for UA's defense, the Cats claw back once again. Arizona spots the Devils a 17-7 lead before Tuitama gets hot, willing the Wildcats to victory with 219 passing yards in the second half. Johnson puts the UA ahead for good with a 57-yard grab early in the fourth. Holmes sacks Rudy Carpenter to end the game, and performs a dance at midfield reminiscent of Clarence Farmer's post-game boogy at Sun Devil Stadium a few years ago.
Game 13 - Sun Bowl - Arizona 37, Texas Tech 34, OT
The Cats and Red Raiders provide West Texas with a wild shootout with regional flavor. Bondzio's 41-yard field goal just clears the right upright, warming the Arizona faithful which braved frigid temps and whipping winds to savor the Cats' first bowl trip in nine seasons. Tuitama passes for 246 yards and a pair of TDs, Jennings runs for 109 yards and Cason is the MVP with two interceptions and a punt return for a score. The Stoops brothers are carried off the field by their players, having taken the program to double-digit wins for the first time since 1998.
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