2016 Arizona Wildcats football season countdown: No. 5 individual record



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Chuck Cecil’s 100-yard interception return against ASU in 1986 is one of 11 times in Pac-12 history that feat has been achieved.

Only five days separate us from the start of Rich Rodriguez’s fifth season, when the Arizona Wildcats football team plays Brigham Young on Sept. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

As is customary on this Web site, we will count down the days with an interesting element associated with each day. This year the topic is the top 100 individual records in Arizona’s storied football past.

In past years, we have counted down the top games and highlighted players and some of the top plays in Arizona Wildcats football history. A couple of years ago in our top 100 countdown, we showcased the 1914 team that was responsible for Arizona becoming the “Wildcats”.

Back to this year’s countdown of the top 100 individual records in the 117 years of Arizona football:

No. 5

Longest Interception Return: 100 yards, Chuck Cecil, vs. ASU, Nov. 22, 1986

Pac-12 record: 100 yards, Cecil and 10 others, most recently Troy Nolan, ASU vs. UCLA, 2008

NCAA record: Since 1941, 99 players have returned interceptions 100 yards. The most recent: Evan Berry, Tennessee, vs. Northwestern, 2015, and Joshua Hawkins, East Carolina, vs. Tulsa, 2015

From the Pac-12 record book — Longest interception returns:

An over-capacity crowd of 58,267 at Arizona Stadium, the second-largest ever at Arizona Stadium at the time, saw the Wildcats convert four ASU turnovers into 24 points, highlighted by Cecil’s return in the 34-17 victory over the Rose Bowl-bound Sun Devils.

Cecil’s interception of a Jeff Van Raaphorst pass tied an NCAA record at 100 yards although he caught it six yards deep in the end zone. Under NCAA rules, interceptions inside the end zone are measured from the goal line.

“I just ran,” Cecil told the Tucson Citizen years later. “I still, to this day, don’t know why I ran it out.”

Lost through the years over the hyperbole of Cecil’s interception is the pass rush on Van Raaphorst, including that of tackle George Hinkle from the left side and nose guard Jim Birmingham up the middle.

Hinkle and Birmingham put pressure on the ASU quarterback to hurry his throw toward Aaron Cox into coverage.

Picture from an anonymous Arizona fan of the scoreboard following Cecil’s legendary return.

It was one of six snaps Arizona State took inside the Wildcats 5 but came away empty-handed every time. ASU also lost the ball once inside the 5 on a fumble — that was caused by Cecil in the first quarter — and was stopped on three plays from the 3 another time.

The 100-yard return by Cecil broke the previous Arizona mark of 96 yards set by Allan Durden against LSU in 1984.

“I didn’t think I’d make it,” Cecil told the Arizona Republic about the long return. “It was terrible. But it was great and terrible.”

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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