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November 24, 2013

Castoffs redefine Wildcats' season in stunner

Heading into Saturday's contest against fifth-ranked Oregon, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was asked whether the 18 1/2-point underdog Wildcats needed to play a perfect game to have a shot and win.

Rodriguez said the performance would have to be close to perfect, but the Ducks needed to provide some help, too. Well, that help came in the unlikely form of a steady rain that quickly disappeared after the game's first two drives, but stuck around to aid the first interception of the season from UO quarterback Marcus Mariota.

In fact, it was the redshirt sophomore's first pick after a Pac-12 Conference record 353 consecutive throws without one. And it happened on a comical chain of events that started with a missed catch through the wet hands of Bralon Addison, into UA cornerback Shaquille Richardson's possession and was shoveled off to linebacker Scooby Wright - the last two of which helped keep the ball in-bounds.

"I tried to grab it with one hand, took a picture of it, looked for some red and just threw it to the red jersey," Richardson said of his heads-up play that ignited the Wildcats' stunning 42-16 victory over the Ducks.

And it was that play - the first of the game - that set the tone for the Ducks' demise and the Wildcats' triumph.

From there, it was a dream day for the Wildcats. Or, a Ka'Dream day, you might say.

Ka'Deem Carey rumbled for 206 rushing yards and four touchdowns, setting new all-time program records with 3,913 yards and 49 career touchdowns - and with two games to play, maybe for good, in his third season.

There also was the UA single-game records of 48 carries and 49 all-purpose plays, as well as 45 career rushing scores to establish another career mark.

Carey wasn't even aware he did more than pass Trung Canidate for the program's all-time rushing crown.

"What was the other record I broke?" Carey asked after saying the big record meant everything to him as a Tucson native.

Perhaps that is partly because Ka'Deem was just as happy about Ka'Team. After his 20-yard record-breaking run in the third quarter, Carey was shown on the sidelines and the crowd of 45,777 at Arizona Stadium - which grew significantly after the rain stopped - roared in appreciation.

But, apparently, the stadium cameras missed a few other faces.

"The front line, thank God to them, because they was making holes," Carey added.

"I wanted to have the O-line in the picture with me because I'm not the only one out there working. And B.J. handed me the ball and (was) making reads. It's all together. It's a together thing, not just one thing. And everything came together to help me get it."

And it was B.J. Denker who was arguably the player of the game. Think about it for a second.

The UA senior quarterback completed 13 of his first 15 throws - including seven consecutive to open the game - and finished 19 of 22 for 178 yards and two scores.

His top target on the day, fifth-year receiver Terrence Miller, didn't have a touchdown all season and caught just 27 balls this year. Miller finished with a career-high nine catches for 88 yards and a second-quarter score.

Denker even added a 44-yard pooch punt that landed inside the Oregon 5-yard line.

This was the same Denker who had trouble with a wet football in a rain-filled 31-13 loss at Washington in late September. This was the same JC transfer and first-year Division I starter who looked overwhelmed by the moment each of the past two weeks on late fourth-quarter drives in losses to UCLA and Washington State.

But, in many ways, it was not the same Denker - who added 102 yards on the ground and continued to make sound decisions. He will now be known as the quarterback who took down the fifth-ranked Ducks, with an opportunity next week to slay newly minted Pac-12 South champion and in-state rival Arizona State in Tempe.

"I'm just trying to get better every week and play within myself and play within the system," said Denker, who may now have the Wildcats thinking about a bowl trip to Las Vegas.

The Arizona defense limited an Oregon offense that averaged 50.9 points to just nine through three quarters - nine - and forced three turnovers to go with an additional fumble that the Ducks recovered.

And Richardson, who started the season with a fresh, positive outlook that can be credited to a newspaper clipping with the headline "REDEMPTION" taped in his locker, capped his day with an interception at the Arizona 3 with 5:40 remaining. That was redemption for all the fade routes that Justin Blackmon burned him on in 2011, and the numerous gaffes last season.

A senior playing in his final home game in front of a crowd that used to groan at the sound of his name, Richardson will now be most remembered as the one who put an end to Mariota's Heisman Trophy hopes and bookended one of the biggest wins in program history.

"That's about as good as it gets," UA linebacker and Tucson native Jake Fischer said after making a game-high 14 tackles in his final home contest.

And, finally, Ka'Boom went the Ducks' Rose Bowl hopes that De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff sulked about leading up to the game. Eleven other teams in the league would have loved to be in that spot, guys.

In his first two seasons, Rodriguez has coaching victories against the Pac-12's preseason favorite to play for a BCS national championship in back-to-back years. The win also put Rodriguez at 15 in less than two full seasons - the same total he had in three forgettable years at Michigan prior to getting fired.

Michigan Man, he is not, but why not Arizona?

UA athletic director Greg Byrne, smiling in a mob of Wildcats fans on the field, said the moment topped last year's 39-36 win that sent USC's season and eventual future into a downward spiral.

Byrne said it also represented a response to last season's 49-0 thrashing at Oregon, and a glimpse into the bright future that includes a wealth of receivers and a top-20 recruiting class in 2014 that sits atop the Pac-12, according to Rivals.com.

"What a great job by our team, our coaches," Byrne said. "You could see the foundation for long-term success being built with coach Rodriguez.

"I think it's even bigger (than the USC win). The success Oregon's been having for a long period of time - and we had such a tough loss to them last year on the road - and to come back and respond this way? Wonderful."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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