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December 15, 2012

Wildcats rally for New Mexico Bowl win

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- After already throwing two interceptions, including the last while trailing by double digits with less than 10 minutes to play, it looked as if Arizona quarterback Matt Scott was going to end his collegiate career with a poor second-half performance.

But the fifth-year senior remained composed Saturday during a wild fourth-quarter comeback and received help from place-kicker John Bonano and the special teams unit to rally the Wildcats to a dramatic 49-48 win over Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium.

The Wildcats (8-5) trailed by as many as 21 in the first quarter and 13 with 1:48 to play. Scott, who was named the game's offensive most valuable player, threw all three of his touchdowns in the final quarter - including the last two inside the game's final minute.

Scott said he could not recall being part of a more hectic finish.

"It's hard," Scott said. "It's not easy to come back from that situation. You're not necessarily going to think the most positive thing at the time, but we went out there and we took care of business."

Down 48-42 after Austin Hill's 2-yard reception with 46 seconds to play, Bonano executed a well-placed onside kick that bounced off the facemask of Wolfpack defensive back Duke Willliams. Linebacker Marquis Flowers scooped up the loose ball to give the Wildcats the ball back on their own 49-yard line.

"It was the perfect kick," Flowers said.

Scott and the offense then marched 51 yards in three plays, capped by the quarterback's 2-yard strike to receiver Tyler Slavin to tie the game at 48 with 19 seconds remaining. Bonano then capped his own collegiate career with the game-winning extra point.

But it wasn't until Flowers' interception on the ensuing play against an otherwise-stellar Cody Fajardo that triggered an array of emotions - from a teary-eyed winning sideline to a stunned group of Nevada players.

"It's improbable," UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Certainly, I've had some games come down to that end. But to have everything - the defense making the stop, to the field goal, Matt leading the quick drive down there, getting the onside kick which is rare to have, and then Matt leading down again - it just doesn't happen very often."

Arizona generated 578 yards of total offense - Scott accounted for 403 - but the numbers the Wildcats had to overcome were even better. Nevada (7-6) blasted the UA defense for 659 yards, and Fajardo threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns to go with 140 rushing yards and another score.

Flowers was named the game's defensive most valuable player after collecting 10 tackles and the clinching pick.

Almost an afterthought by the final whistle was UA sophomore Ka'Deem Carey's 172 rushing yards and three touchdowns to hold onto the nation's lead for the rushing title. Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson, who came into the game trailing Carey by 54 yards, finished with 180 yards and two touchdowns.

"It was an overall great season," said Carey, who picked up a host of first-team All-American honors in the past two weeks. "I had teammates that pushed me through in the weight room."

Trailing by 17 to start the fourth, Scott and the Wildcats did not take long to cut into the deficit. Facing third-and-10 on the opening play, Scott hooked up with Hill for a 63-yard bomb in single coverage to pull within 45-35.

Scott tried it once more, this time intended for Garic Wharton on a fourth-and-7 gamble, but Williams leaped in front for a 27-yard interception return to the Wolfack 35 with 9:14 to play. The Wildcats escaped unscathed and forced a punt with 7:11 remaining, but Scott overthrew his targets on back-to-back plays on the following drive and gave the ball right back.

Then, his heroics erased it all.

"To see his composure and leadership out there, everybody on the sideline was hyped," Flowers said of Scott, who completed just 28 of 47 pass attempts. "It was big play after big play."

Trailing by three at half, Arizona was unable to muster much in the quarter after generating 304 yards of total offense in the first 30 minutes. The í'Cats were shut out in the third and limited to just 71 yards.

Fajardo's 33-yard touchdown pass to Richy Turner and his 1-yard run at the 1:33 mark gave the Wolfpack a 45-28 lead going into the fourth quarter.

"Well, it's a sick feeling," Nevada head coach Chris Ault said.

"I know I've been in some. Right now, I'm not recalling too many of them. This is a sick enough feeling."

It took Arizona a while, but the battle of high-powered offenses did not disappoint to kick off the college football bowl season.

In less than three minutes, Nevada was able to march 75 yards down field - 65 via the run - capped by an easy 16-yard touchdown run up the middle by Jefferson.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, stumbled coming out of the gates. The first two drives opened with false start penalties. Then, already facing a 14-0 deficit, the next drive never got started as Jared Baker fumbled the kick return.

The Wolfpack needed just one play and six seconds to extend the lead to 21-0, as Zach Sudfeld hauled in his second touchdown reception of the quarter. The 21 first-quarter points tied a New Mexico Bowl record.

Temple scored 21 in last year's game.

If a "show your underwear" cam on the video board - no, really - was not an odd enough appearance in the opening quarter, things got more bizarre as cameras caught Arizona teammates Tevin Hood and Cody Ippolito fighting on the sideline.

"As soon as I heard what happened, we sent the guys in the locker room," Rodriguez said. "They went home, I believe, with their parents. So it was embarrassing, but I didn't see it (as it happened), so I can't comment on it."

The Wildcats finally turned to the nationís leading rusher to get the offense going. Carey highlighted an 11-play drive with a 21-yard touchdown run to tie the Arizona single-season record.

Inside the final 10 seconds, the defense followed suit as cornerback Shaquille Richardson picked off Fajardo on the ensuing drive.

By the 10:23 mark of the second quarter - and with the help of a Nevada fumble - the Wildcats had roared back to tie the game at 21. Carey's second touchdown of the afternoon also gave him 22 for the season, breaking Art Luppino's school record set in 1954.

Carey and Jefferson then traded rushing touchdowns once more inside the half's final six minutes. Nevada place-kicker Allen Hardison gave the Wolfpack the 31-28 lead on a 27-yard field goal before heading into the locker room.

Game notes

Carey's 145 first-half rushing total and three first-half scores also set a new school marks for an entire bowl game. Previous rushing record holder Chuck Levy rushed for 142 yards against Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl. Ed Wolgast ran for two touchdowns against Drake in the 1949 Salad Bowl.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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