In the 50 days leading up to Arizona’s season-opener against Toledo, on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium, TucsonCitizen.com and its affiliate WildAboutAZCats.net will rank the Top 50 games in the history of the football program. The ranking is at No. 19 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only 19 days away.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 24, ASU Sun Devils 24
DATE: Nov. 28, 1987
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, 70,839
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: Arizona had three ties in 1987, including this zany outcome in Dick Tomey’s first season with the Wildcats in which the UA was 4-4-3. The program had 33 ties overall before the NCAA instituted overtime in 1996. Some of Arizona’s most memorable games were ties, including this game, the 33-33 outcome with Cal in 1983, 13-13 game with Georgia in the 1985 Sun Bowl and 14-14 sister-kisser at Nebraska in 1961.
In this list of Top 50 games, we go from (No. 20) a tie that is like a loss for Arizona — the game at Cal in 1983 — to one (No. 19) that feels like a victory. As the accompanying YouTube video (2:25 mark) suggests, all ASU had to do was punt the ball late in the game and the Sun Devils most likely would have won. But the craziest thing happened. ASU punter Mike Schuh fumbled the snap and then was flagged for an illegal kick (trying to kick the ball on the ground) and All-American safety Chuck Cecil recovered.
The ball was placed at the ASU 13 on the penalty and Gary Coston nailed a 30-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game for Arizona. The Cats celebrated on the Sun Devil Stadium turf as if they were victorious. The outcome ended the UA’s winning run in “The Streak” but the Wildcats remained undefeated in the historic 1982-1990 stretch against their arch-rivals.
“A tie is like kissing your sister only if she’s good-looking,” ASU coach John Cooper told the media. “They might be celebrating in the other locker room, but I can tell you our players are taking it as a heartbreaking loss. It’s hard to take because we thought we had it won. But the lesson we learned is the game’s not over until it’s over.”
The Sun Devils took a 24-21 lead on Alan Zendejas’ 40-yard field goal with 2:45 remaining. ASU cornerback Eric Allen appeared to seal the victory with an interception at the Sun Devil 30 with 1:21 left. But Schuh, a junior who handled 161 previous snaps without a fumble in his career, dropped this one with 13 seconds left, and Cecil recovered at the Sun Devil 25-yard line.
The ball was moved half the distance to the goal on the penalty in which Schuh unsuccessfully tried to kick the ball forward while it was on the ground during the bizarre play. Coston made his field goal two plays later before a stunned, standing-room-only crowd of 70,839 at Sun Devil Stadium and a national television audience.
Arizona State, the defending Pac-10 champs that season, finished the regular season 6-4-1 overall. Arizona’s 4-4-3 record helped it avoid the school’s first losing season since 1980, when the Wildcats went 5-6.
“I don’t like ties, but we’ll take this one. It’s a moral victory if nothing else,” Tomey said afterward. “This is our third tie this year and I wish we could play them all off. But this tie is the best of them.”
It was the first tie in the UA-ASU series, which started in 1899. It also was the fifth time in the last 10 meetings that a field goal in the last minute decided the game.
No. 20 — Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter
No. 21 — Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 22 — Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 23 — Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 24 — UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 25 — Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma (WildAboutAZCats.com)
No. 26 — UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 27 — Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 28 — UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 29 — Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 30 — Arizona win on last-second FG over ASU ends Kush dominance in series (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 31 — Arizona reaches its zenith under Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 32 — Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 33 — Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 34 — ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 35 — Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 36 — Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 37 — USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 38 — Arizona shows signs of life under Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 39 — Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 40 — Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 41 — Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 42 — Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 43 — Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 44 — Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 45 — Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 46 — “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 47 — Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 48 — Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 49 — Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 50 — Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians (TucsonCitizen.com)