USA TODAY Sports
Arizona recovered from deficits of 21, 17 and 13 points to win its first bowl since 2008, and match the program's high for single season wins since 1998.
Two Matt Scott touchdown passes in the final 42 seconds lifted Arizona past Nevada in a wild, bizarre and altogether confounding New Mexico Bowl, 49-48.
The Wildcats (8-5) rallied from deficits of 21, 17 and 13 points to win the program's first postseason game since beating BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl. The defeat of Nevada (7-6) also matched UA's single season high for wins since the 1998 season.
Marquis Flowers recovered a well-placed John Bonano onside kick with 42 seconds left and Arizona trailing 48-42. Scott capped a three-play, 51-yard drive that took all of 23 seconds when he found Tyler Slavin in the front of the end zone on a shallow slant.
It was a similar route on which Scott found Austin Hill just a few snaps earlier.
Perhaps in a nod to Arizona's many special teams gaffes in recent years, Nevada head coach Chris Ault burned his final timeout icing Bonano on the ensuing PAT, but the Wildcat kicker was true, giving Arizona its first -- and only -- lead of the day.
The Wildcat wide receivers were critical to the rollicking rally effort. An Allen Hardison field goal gave Nevada a 13-point lead with 4:27 remaining, and Hill fumbled on the first play of Arizona's ensuing possession. However, Garic Wharton was there for a drive-and-game-saving recovery.
Scott found Slavin -- who was wearing Terrence Miller's No. 18 jersey -- for three catches on the drive. All four of Slavin's receptions came in the final two possessions. The Wildcat wideouts also drew two critical -- and questionable -- pass interference penalties. The second set up Arizona at the two-yard line, setting up the second Scott-to-Hill connection of the day.
Hill finished with 179 yards on nine receptions. The first of his two touchdown catches came in the second quarter, sandwiched between a pair of Ka'Deem Carey rushing touchdowns. The trio of scores erased an initial 21-0 deficit that had Arizona looking like it was headed to yet another embarrassing bowl season exit.
In 2009 and 2010, the Wildcats lost the Holiday and Alamo Bowls by a combined 59 points.
Two turnovers forced by another otherwise rudderless defense helped UA prevent yet another postseason rout. But even after scoring 21 unanswered points, UA trailed at halftime, 31-28.
The Wolf Pack lead extended back to double digits quickly, after Cody Fajardo found Richy Turner on a 33-yard score. The deficit ballooned to 17 when Fajardo, two plays removed from simultaneously sustaining a vicious pair of helmet shots, ran in a one-yard score.
Nevada's quarterback rushed for 139 yards, passed for another 255, and accounted for four touchdowns. He also paced a Wolf Pack offense that set a bowl game record for first downs with 39.
Pack running back Stefphon Jefferson rushed for a pair of scores and 164 yards, but was unable to match Carey. UA's super soph maintained his spot as the nation's leading rusher with 171 yards. He also had three touchdowns to set the program's all-time, single season high that Art Luppino set almost six decades ago.
Saturday's bowl effort was indicative of the Wildcats' entire first season under Rich Rodriguez. Depth on defense was a glaring and nearly debilitating issue. And yet, the offense picked up the slack. The Wolf Pack outgained Arizona 658 yards to 576. Nevada also dominated time-of-possession, with over 39 minutes of ball control.
But Rodriguez and staff produced just enough smoke, and had just enough mirrors, to replicate the magic that produced seven wins previously one more time.