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September 9, 2012
But the Wildcats shook off a 14-point hole midway through the opening quarter to stun the 18th-ranked Cowboys, 59-38, in a wild, see-saw affair at Arizona Stadium.
The victory avenged losses in each of the past two seasons to OSU (1-1), including a 23-point loss exactly one year ago to the date in Stillwater, Okla.
"I did talk all week about us trying to make our program relevant," first-year UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "And the best way to make yourselves relevant is to beat a ranked team. To what degree are we relevant? I don't know, but this is the first step in that way."
Clinging to a 37-31 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats (2-0) got rare pressure on OSU true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt, and UA cornerback Jonathan McKnight stepped in for the 48-yard interception return and touchdown.
A two-point conversion from Scott to Taimi Tutogi extended the advantage to 45-31 with 10:24 to play.
"The pick was huge," Rodriguez said. "Jonathan has great instincts.
"(Defensive coordinator Jeff) Casteel sent pressure, sent a blitz. Quarterback's going to get rid of it a little quicker. Jonathan sensed it, knew it, jumped the route - and, without question, that was the play of the game."
Two drives later, Jared Tevis was gifted UA's third interception of the contest when OSU's Josh Stewart was unable to control the pass and batted it in the safety's direction. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Ka'Deem Carey dashed 25 yards to run the lead up to 21 points at the 4:35 mark and pull away.
Immediately after the game, a smiling Rodriguez walked arm-in-arm with his son, Rhett, and daughter, Raquel, as the crowd of 45,602 rained down chants of "U of A!"
Arizona generated 501 yards of total offense and withstood 636 yards by Oklahoma State. The Pokes, however, committed 15 penalties for a staggering 157 yards - including a pair of 15-yard penalties on the same play while leading 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
UA quarterback Matt Scott was hit late by OSU defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, who was whistled for roughing the passer. Scott was then tangled up with Barnett, who tossed the senior aside and was docked for unnecessary roughness.
The calls took the Wildcats from their own 30-yard line to OSU's 30, and five plays later Scott found Richard Morrison for a high-arching 15-yard touchdown on a fade route to cut the deficit in half with 5:19 left in the quarter. The score ignited a string of 30 unanswered points for the 'Cats capped by a 13-yard pass from Scott to Carey with 9:59 left in the third.
"It affected (Oklahoma State) a lot," Scott said of the penalties. "That helped us out, obviously. They were committing stupid fouls, late penalties, holding - they had a bunch of penalties. I guess you could say it helped us out, but obviously we had to still play."
Scott completed 28 of 41 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. Carey added 126 yards on 26 attempts and scored four touchdowns, including a 1-yard run to cap the scoring with less than two minutes left.
Lunt, starting in the first road contest of his collegiate career, turned in a gutsy 37-of-60 passing performance for 436 yards and four touchdowns. But the three interceptions proved to be too much to overcome.
Meanwhile, OSU running back Joseph Randle, one of the stars from the previous victories over the Wildcats, rushed for 123 yards and caught eight passes for 70 more but never found the end zone.
"Way too many mistakes," OSU head coach Mike Gundy said. "It was poor coaching and poor playing; that's a bad combination. We lost the turnover battle, 4-0; we're playing on the road; they've got a quarterback that can make some plays."
After six consecutive stalled drives from the first to the third quarter, the Cowboys responded with two more quick scores in the third quarter - Tracy Moore's third touchdown reception and a 10-yard run by Jeremy Smith - to cut what was a 30-14 deficit down to just two points.
But in just 98 seconds, the Wildcats answered with an 8-yard keeper by Scott to extend the lead to 37-28 and start the back-and-forth affair.
"We shortened the field for them too many times," Gundy said. "They had an interception returned for a touch, a tipped interception returned to the 30, and we turned the ball over when we were driving."
To start the contest, Gundy took a page out of last year's recipe when the Cowboys targeted UA cornerback Shaquille Richardson early. Richardson, who gave up a pair of big early touchdowns in the loss last season, slipped in the end zone and Lunt found Moore wide open for the 9-yard touchdown.
The Wildcats tried to respond immediately, electing to try their luck on fourth-and-16 from the OSU 36 but came up empty.
On the ensuing drive, it was Lunt to Moore again, this time for a 30-yard score with Richardson well out of the picture on the blown assignment.
"It was hard," Scott said of the early deficit. "Anytime a team jumps up 14-0 on you, you're going to be a little concerned. But we kept our composure, stayed cool and just came out that next drive and scored."