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Arizona squanders early two-score lead, falls to Colorado for 11th straight loss

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NCAA Football: Colorado at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Good teams find ways to win. Bad teams figure out ways to lose.

The Arizona Wildcats dropped their program-record 11th consecutive contest on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium, jumping out to a 13-0 lead on the unbeaten Colorado Buffaloes only to fall 24-13.

Arizona scored on three of its first four possessions, forced three turnovers and held Colorado to only five third-down conversions. But the Wildcats also had to settle for field goals twice after getting inside the Buffs’ 25-yard line, while on two other trips inside the 5 they ended up with zero points, and were just 3 of 14 on third down.

“Those were wasted opportunities,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said.

And the Buffs ran for 407 yards, the most by a UA opponent since Oregon had 415 in 2011, with sophomore Jarek Broussard going for an opponent-record 301. Broussard’s production included chunk runs of 75, 72 and 59.

The Wildcats trailed 14-13 at halftime and quickly had a chance to retake the lead after Anthony Pandy intercepted a Sam Noyer pass at midfield. But Arizona went 3-and-out, and not long after Colorado went up 21-13 with 9:22 left in the third on a 2-yard Noyer run (he also ran for 54 yards on 3rd and short on the drive).

Arizona’s offense finally put together an extended drive late in the third quarter, staying mostly on the ground to go from its 12 to the Colorado 3. Michael Wiley nearly broke off a long TD run only to get tripped up after 33 yards, setting up a 1st-and-goal, but on second down Will Plummer’s pass to Ma’jon Wright was tipped at the line and intercepted by Colorado’s Nigel Bethel.

Plummer, who started for the injured Grant Gunnell, started 13 of 16 but finished 19 of 32 for the game for 154 yards and a pick.

Pandy’s second interception of the game, this one inside the UA 5, set the stage for a 10-play, 88-yard drive that somehow came up empty. A pair of pass interference penalties helped the cause, but once in a goal-to-go situation a trio of Gary Brightwell runs produced only two yards and then Plummer’s fourth-down throw to Brian Casteel in the end zone was batted down.

The UA has only four TDs in 11 red zone possessions this season.

Colorado added a 19-yard field goal with 2:26 left to put the game out of reach.

Arizona took a 7-0 lead—the second game in a row it scored first and third time since the losing streak began—on a 26-yard TD run by Brightwell (his first of the season) with 10:26 left in the first quarter. The drive began in plus territory thanks to a 33-yard punt return from Jamarye Joiner and was extended by a 14-yard pass from Plummer to Casteel on 3rd and 10.

Joiner’s return was Arizona’s longest of a punt in 14 games.

The Wildcats made it 10-0 on a 38-yard Lucas Havrisik field goal with 4:37 left in the first, marking their first two-score advantage since being up 28-14 against Texas Tech last September.

Another first occurred on the game’s next drive, as Isaiah Mays forced a fumble that Lorenzo Burns recovered. It was the UA’s first takeaway since the 35-7 home loss to Utah more than a year ago.

Colorado finally got on the board with 6:38 left before halftime on a 1-yard TD run by Ashaad Clayton, cutting Arizona’s lead to 13-7. The Buffaloes went 95 yards in four plays, all runs including a 75-yarder from Broussard to open the drive.

Before that score, Arizona had forced punts or turnovers in nine of 10 defensive possessions dating back to the start of the second half at UCLA.

The Buffs took a 14-13 lead with three minutes left in the half on a 4-yard Clayton TD run, this coming one play after Broussard broke on off for 59 yards on the ground.

Arizona ran for 268 yards, its most in a loss since gaining 289 on the ground in the 31-30 loss at UCLA in 2018. Wiley had 126 yards on nine carries, with Brightwell adding 113 on 20 carries.

“It looked like everything was just working,” Brightwell said. “We’ve just got to execute on our goal-line plays.”

The UA is 0-4 for the first time since 1969, with only a Friday visit from ASU standing in the way of the first winless season in school history.