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. 5 as the kickoff to the Wildcats’ season — and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era — is only five days away.
SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 16, No. 9 Notre Dame 13
DATE: October 16, 1982
SITE: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., 59,075 in attendance
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: One of the greatest plays and games in the history of Arizona football could have been altered if Max Zendejas did not change his mind and stayed on the team bus after hastily going there during halftime.
Zendejas told me in a 2009 interview that he was upset that coach Larry Smith did not allow him to kick a 52-yard field goal with less than a minute left before halftime because Smith was concerned about the wind at hallowed Notre Dame Stadium. Zendejas also previously missed a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Smith elected to punt the ball, which sent Zendejas, a 19-year-old freshman into a fury. He told me he left the locker room and went to the team bus. Some players and coaches visited him and pleaded for him to get back on the field.
Former UA assistant coach Gary Bernardi, now the offensive line coach at San Jose State, confirmed the story to me when he was a UNLV assistant in 2009.
“I was kind of stubborn back then,” Zendejas told me with a laugh, “but I know deep down that I could have made that kick before halftime. I just let it get the best of me but that shows what kind of competitor I am.”
After the coaxing by others and the realization that his team might need him in the second half, Zendejas gathered himself and returned to the field in time to make field goals of 38 and 32 yards in the third quarter to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 10-6. Smith also allowed Zendejas to line up for a 48-yard field goal, once again testing Zendejas’ foot and leg strength against the swirling wind in the Notre Dame Stadium. Zendejas missed and the Fighting Irish maintained their four-point lead.
“It was just a matter of believing in ourselves,” UA coach Larry Smith was quoted by the Associated Press after the game. “Our kicker, Max Zendejas, is young. He’s learning and he has the range. He’s a very fine kicker.”
Arizona’s defense shut down the Fighting Irish after Notre Dame, ranked ninth nationally with a 4-0 record, looked like it might dominate the game in first quarter. Freshman tailback Allen Pinkett ran for 25 yards to put the Irish up 10-0 and the score remained the same until halftime. Pinkett gained only 12 yards afterward.
The Wildcats looked like they still felt the aftershocks of the tie against No. 8 UCLA in the previous week in Pasadena. Zendejas kicked a 43-yard field goal with 35 seconds left in that game to put the Wildcats ahead 24-21. But the Bruins, aided by a penalty and a dropped interception, moved 60 yards in 31 seconds to set up John Lee’s game-tying 36-yard field goal as time expired.
“We were angry and frustrated with what happened in that game,” Smith is quoted as saying by the AP. “I was very disappointed because we had a great victory snatched from our hands. They (UCLA) tied us, we didn’t tie them.”
That anger reached a boiling point in the halftime with Zendejas leaving to the team bus. The Wildcats’ defense played with rage in the second half. Arizona’s Ray Moret intercepted a pass thrown by Notre Dame’s Blair Kiel that set up Zendejas’ 38-yarder in the third quarter. Don Be’Ans then stripped the ball from Notre Dame returning Joe Howard on the ensuing kickoff, which led to Zendejas’ 32-yard field goal.
Following a 43-yard field goal by Mike Johnston in the fourth quarter that gave Notre Dame a 13-6 lead, Arizona quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe engineered a 79-yard scoring drive against Notre Dame’s “Gold Rush” defense. Phil Freeman’s 1-yard plunge with 8:40 left for the touchdown with 8:40 remaining in the game was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Fighting Irish that season.
After a Notre Dame punt, the Wildcats (1-2-1 entering the game) started their game-winning drive on their 20-yard line. Tunnicliffe’s 19-yard pass to Brad Anderson on third down set the ball at the Notre Dame 32. Smith allowed the clock to run down to six seconds before sending Zendejas in for the 48-yard attempt.
“I felt at the end of the game if we kept it (the ball) within the 35-yard line, that we had a chance to win it with a field goal,” Smith told the AP. “The wind was a factor. We wanted to get it as close as possible while staying in’the middle of the field.”
Zendejas lined up for his 48-yard attempt. The snap from Steve Justice was perfect as was the hold by Kevin Ward. Zendejas got great lift on the kick and it barely cleared the cross bar for the game-winner.
Pete Solomon, the broadcast voice for the Wildcats’ telecast, proclaimed: “Down go the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame! …”
Zendejas did not see the field goal. He was on his backside as a result of a roughing-the-kicker play by Notre Dame. The penalty of course was declined by Arizona and the Wildcats achieved “their most prestigious win,” according to Smith.
“Max had to kick against the wind, and he just went out there and did the job,” Smith was quoted as saying by the AP.
“The guys started yelling and jumping on me so I knew that I made it,” Zendejas told me. “I had missed those two earlier and I know Coach Smith, bless his soul, was concerned about the wind.
“I kid around with people that Rudy is not the only one who got carried off the field at South Bend.”
Arizona 0 0 6 10-16
Notre Dame 10 0 0 3-13
ND – FG Johnston 22
ND — Pinkett 25 run (Johnston klcK)
UA – FG Zendejas 38
UA – FG Zendejas 32
ND – FG Johnston 43
UA – Freeman 1 run (Zendejas klcK)
UA – FG Zendejas 48
Rushing — Arizona, Freeman 11-30, Griffin 7-
14, Johnson 5-12. Notre Dame, Carter 15-55,
Brooks 13-47, Pinkett 10-37.
Passing – Arizona, Tunnicllffe 19-38-0-199.
Notre Dame, Kiel 13-21-3-80.
Recieving — Arizona, Anderson 5-61, Keel 4-36,
Johnson 3-30, Griffin 3-29, Ward 2-28. Notre Dame, Brooks 5-21,
Howard 4-33, Pearcy 2-10, Hunter 1-13.
No. 6 — 1982 upset win keeps Sun Devils from Rose Bowl, starts “The Streak” (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 7 — “Leap by the Lake” most amazing individual play in UA history gives Cats win over Huskies (WildAboutAZCats.com)
No. 8 — UA loses heartbreaker to ASU wondering: “The Catch” really a catch? (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 9 — Arizona (12-1) achieves best record, highest ranking to end season with 1998 win over Nebraska (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 10 — UA wins 1926 game after McKale delivers Salmon’s “Bear Down” line (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 11 — The Desert Swarm is born in 1992 near-upset of top-ranked Miami at the Orange Bowl (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 12 — Zendejas’ 57-yard FG ties UA record, keeps ASU out of Rose Bowl again (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 13 — Arizona blows 20-point lead and shot at the Rose Bowl with 1993 collapse at California (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 14 — UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1 (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 15 — L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 16 — UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 17 — Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 18 — Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968 (TucsonCitizen.com)
No. 19 — Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie (WildAboutAZCats.net)
No. 20 — Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter (TucsonCitizen.com)
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)