20 years ago: UCLA surges past Arizona in Top 10 matchup

The front page of Sports in the Arizona Daily Star the day after the game. Pictured: Arizona RB Kelvin Eafon goes over the top for a touchdown.

Tomey: 'The UCLA game was going to be a tough step'

I'd say the two most anticipated home games I've seen at Arizona are the 1992 matchup against No. 1 Washington and the 1998 meeting vs. UCLA.

That latter game took place 20 years ago today.

The Wildcats were coming off the electrifying Leap by the Lake victory at Washington, jumping to No. 10 in the AP poll. UCLA, led by quarterback Cade McNown, was No. 3 nationally and riding a 13-game winning streak. Even in early October, this battle of unbeatens had a winner-take-the-Pac-10 vibe.

Arizona-UCLA -- which was so big that it overshadowed Notre Dame's visit to Arizona State on the same day -- remains the only matchup of Top 10 teams at Arizona Stadium.

The game was completely living up to the hype in front of a sold-out crowd of 58,738 ... well, at least through three quarters. UCLA scored on a McNown 3-yard run with 20 seconds left in the quarter to take a 31-28 lead.

The play of the game came after Arizona missed a 49-yard field goal attempt on its next possession.

UCLA had set this up nicely, showing some option looks early in the game. This time, McNown sprinted to his left, and the Wildcats were thinking option. Not even All-American cornerbacks as good as Chris McAlister are flawless.

When McNown abruptly dropped back to pass, McAlister, in man-to-man coverage, had already fallen for the run fake. Wide receiver Danny Farmer -- it should actually have been wideout Brian Poli-Dixon, a Sabino High School grad, but McNown had called the wrong formation in the huddle -- ran past McAlister and caught a 64-yard TD pass.

After a UA punt, UCLA's Keith Brown scored on a 54-yard run for a 45-28 lead. The Bruins won 52-28.

"The UCLA game was going to be a tough step," former Arizona coach Dick Tomey told me last week.

"It was going to be a step that was in many ways made tougher because of the Washington win, because everybody started to be aware that we had a really strong team. That gave that game a lot of oomph nationally.

"Cade McNown was unbelievable. We caught him on the wrong day."

McNown actually completed only 10 of 24 passes, but those 10 completions went for 171 yards and two scores. And the long pass to Farmer remains a major Arizona regret what turned out to be the team's only loss of the season.