With a six-game losing streak and no chance of a bowl bid, it would be very easy for the Arizona Wildcats to just fold up shop and head into the offseason while putting this disappointing season behind them.
But that would mean mailing it in for the biggest game of the year, that being Saturday night’s battle for the Territorial Cup in Tempe. And that’s not an option, players said Tuesday.
“That’s like my bowl game right there,” senior defensive tackle Finton Connolly said. “It’s always special going there and playing in Tempe. The fans are always crazy, I love playing there.”
The annual season-ending Duel in the Desert never fails to produce plenty of emotions and drama, both good and bad. Arizona’s last win came in 2016, when it didn’t throw a pass in the second half on its way to a blowout victory in Tucson, while last year’s 41-40 home loss was about as painful as they come with the Wildcats collapsing in the fourth quarter.
Defensive tackle Trevon Mason was in attendance for last year’s game, on his official visit before signing with the UA a month later. He said he couldn’t believe how intense things got, both with the fans and the players.
“I just thought it was a game,” Mason said. “I know this is very important to some people.It was crazy, it was a crazy game.”
Mason, a junior, is expected to return for 2020. The same can’t be said for others like Connolly, quarterback Khalil Tate, running back J.J. Taylor, receiver Cedric Peterson and cornerback Jace Whittaker, all of whom will be playing their final college game on Saturday. And nobody on the Wildcats wants to see them go out with a loss to ASU.
“Do it for the seniors, they want the Cup,” Mason said. “That’s the least I can do.”
This will be the first Territorial Cup for redshirt freshman Jamarye Joiner, who was the third-string quarterback last season and didn’t see action in the game. Growing up in Tucson, though, he’s well aware of the rivalry’s importance to everyone.
“Being a Tucson local, seeing it, just being part of the culture … it’s different as a player because now you take it more personal,” said Joiner, who chose Arizona over ASU.
Connolly and defensive end Jalen Harris are among 14 players on Arizona’s roster who hail from the Phoenix area, with Harris’ father Sean Harris playing for the UA in the 1990s. Both have always been loyal to the Wildcats, though, which can lead to some strong words from people back hom.
“I’ve got a lot of friends there that go to ASU” Connolly said. “So the trash-talking has already started.”