Five on Friday: Arizona's most painful losses to Cal

Arizona-Cal is often the Twilight Zone of college football matchups

Arizona has won four consecutive games against Cal, including a 45-44 double-overtime thriller last season, when Wildcats linebacker Colin Schooler knocked down a 2-point conversion attempt.

As far as fantastic finishes between these programs, that was merely par for the course.

Arizona and Cal no longer play each other every year thanks to conference expansion, with the Cats switching off between the Bears and Stanford every two years. But there was a time, mostly in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, when this was the Twilight Zone of college football matchups -- unbelievable comebacks, upsets, plays, endings and heartbreak.

More recently, it was just 2014 when Arizona pulled off perhaps its greatest finish -- the 47-yard "Hill Mary" touchdown pass from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill to cap a 36-point fourth quarter for the Cats and a 49-45 victory.

But, more often than not, Arizona-Cal has ended badly for Arizona.

I know this is a "Five for Friday" but here six of UA's "bad beats" against Cal:

6. 1991 -- Cal 23, Arizona 21

Doug Brien slipped a last-play 32-yard field goal just inside the right upright at Arizona Stadium for the winning points. The Bears' winning drive began at their 3-yard line.

5. 1990 -- Cal 30, Arizona 25

Trailing 30-23 in the final minute, facing second-and-3 at the Cal 9, Arizona abandoned its strong running game. Three consecutive pass plays resulted in an incompletion, a sack and an interception. The Bears ended up taking a safety for the final score.

4. 2009 -- Cal 24, Arizona 16

Arizona trailed 18-16 in the final two minutes, facing third-and-3 from the Cal 25, already in field goal range. But Nick Foles' pass was batted back at the line of scrimmage; he caught the rebound and then attempted another pass down field.

Since you can't have two forward passes on one play, that was a loss of down and a 5-yard penalty at the spot of the foul, resulting in fourth-and-17 from the Cal 39. Arizona went for it and did not convert.

Cal then ripped off a 61-yard TD run but missed the extra point ... but UA's offense sputtered and couldn't tie the game.

3. 1989 -- Cal 29, Arizona 28

Arizona was still clinging to Rose Bowl hopes in early November and was up 21-0 in Berkeley in the first half. But UA's best offensive linemen, Glenn Parker, left the game before halftime with an injury, freshman quarterback George Malauulu suffered a torn ACL, and Cal quarterback Troy Taylor got hot, throwing for 372 yards and directing an 83-yard drive for the winning touchdown with 4:35 left.

2. 1996 -- Cal 56, Arizona 55 (4 OT)

There were 1,254 yards of offense -- including a then-NCAA freshman record 502 from UA quarterback Keith Smith -- and 503 passing yards from Cal quarterback Pat Barnes.

The teams battled to exhaustion until the end of the fourth overtime, when the Wildcats attempted a fake extra point. Holder Ryan Hesson took the snap, flipped the ball over his head to kicker Matt Peyton, running right. Cal's Andre Rhodes easily dropped Peyton short of the goal line.

Tomey, as you might expect, was getting crushed by fans for the attempted fake -- my position: just line up with Smith and go for it -- which prompted Hesson to call me the Monday after the game.

Hesson emphatically declared that he should have checked out of the play and into the regular PAT try. He said it was his responsibility to read Rhodes, who usually rushed off the edge to try to block the kick. Rhodes had actually run into Peyton on a PAT in the fourth quarter.

By the fourth overtime, Rhodes simply was too tired to go for the block, which, as luck would have it, put him in perfect position to make the tackle.

"So, we're thinking he's rushing, he's rushing," Hesson told me. "And I didn't see that he was just standing there. After looking at the tape, I can see he didn't even look like he was going to rush ...

"It's no one's fault but mine. You can write that in the paper, and I'd be happy if you did. It's not Tomey's fault; it's Hesson's fault."

Tomey, the next day, was not happy with me that I wrote that story -- and he had a point that he should not have put Hesson in a position to be the one to make that call. But I've never forgotten what a stand-up guy Hesson was over the whole controversy.

(Tomey successfully led NCAA legislation in the offseason to mandate that teams had to go for two after the second overtime.)

1. 1993 -- Cal 24, Arizona 20

One of the all-time gut punches for Arizona football, which led 20-0 at halftime and would have walked out of Berkeley on Nov. 13 in control of its destiny in the Pac-10 race.

I later heard that Cal coaches would have pulled banged-up Cal quarterback Dave Barr from the game, essentially dooming the Bears' chances, if he didn't get a touchdown on the opening drive after halftime. Yeah, he got a touchdown on the opening drive after halftime.

Arizona, dealing with multiple injuries itself, had the ball and was still clinging to a 20-10 lead with 7:41 left, but the Cats couldn't close. A three-and-out was followed by a Cal touchdown, which was followed by a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown by Eric Zomalt, who grabbed the ball as it was popped loose from wide receiver Terry Vaughn.

The Wildcats had a last-minute chance, but Vaughn was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after catching a pass near the sideline to the Cal 19. In his haste to the get up and get back to the line of scrimmage, he accidentally bumped an official, who threw a flag.

Still, Arizona maneuvered into third-and-5 from the 14. With time to get a first down, quarterback Dan White tried two shots into the end zone -- one to Richard Dice, the other to Vaughn -- both incomplete.

And one more:

The 1983 game wasn't a loss, but it felt like one. Arizona was 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the AP poll. The Cats, after an interception return for a touchdown by All-American linebacker Ricky Hunley, led 26-3 with 6:47 to go in the third quarter. What could go wrong?

But Cal responded with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Gale Gilbert and a 67-yard punt return for a score ... and the game was on. In a game with wild swings of momentum, Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson recovered a late fumble at the Arizona 21-yard line, setting up Randy Pratt to kick a 22-yard field goal with 48 seconds for a 33-33 tie.

And STILL one more:

In 1987, emergency quarterback Jeff Hammerschmidt, having moved from a backup safety role a couple of weeks earlier because of injuries, lost a pitch on an option play from the Cal 21 with less than a minute left. He had been told by coach Dick Tomey to not pitch the ball. Arizona and Cal ended up in a 23-23 tie.

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Steve Rivera
Steve Rivera


Good list. I think the 1989 game was good too. Can't remember that but UA had a good lead in Berkeley and then lost it in the last seconds.