Before the Arizona Wildcats lost 20 consecutive games, they had won four in a row. The last of those, a 35-30 victory at Colorado more than two years ago, featured 25 UA players who are still on the roster.
“I remember that we were happy and we wanted to keep it going,” said defensive end Jalen Harris, who had three tackles in that game. “That’s what we plan on doing now.”
Arizona ended the nation’s longest losing streak on Saturday, beating Cal 10-3 on Homecoming. The victory not only ended 763 days of winlessness but gave a rebuilding program some actual results for all of the work they’ve put in since Jedd Fisch was hired last December.
“We’ve been trying, coming in here and busting our butt every week, every day,” said Christian Young, who had four tackles in that Colorado game in 2019 and five against Cal. “Getting that win feels good, it takes a weight off our shoulders.”
While many other members of that last win have since graduated, others left the program at some point during the losing streak.
Young, in his fourth year with the program, opted out of most of the 2020 season and went home to Houston to rehab injuries before coming back in January. Receiver Stanley Berryhill III, in his fifth year at the UA, entered the NCAA transfer in December after Kevin Sumlin was fired and briefly committed to Ball State before backing out of that pledge and coming back to his hometown school.
On Saturday his 25-yard punt return set up Michael Wiley’s game-winning 10-yard touchdown run with 2:17 left. The redshirt junior, who this week was nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy given to college football’s top former walk-on, had 94 all-purpose yards including 43 on five receptions and 26 on four carries.
“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since there was two minutes left in the game and we had it in the bag when our defense got the (last) stop,” Berryhill said. “It was just an emotional rollercoaster. All I’ve got to say is, it’s over now. Now we’re going to start a different kind of streak.”
In a game that didn’t have scoring until midway through the third quarter, Arizona’s defense shined from opening kickoff to final whistle. The Wildcats held Cal to 122 yards, the fewest they’ve allowed in a game since giving up 112 to Idaho in 2008 and fewest in a Pac-12 game since giving up 52 to Stanford in 2006.
Cal played the game without eight starters, including its senior quarterback and three offensive linemen, due to COVID-19 protocols, and Arizona capitalized by registering four sacks, 10 tackles for loss and holding the Golden Bears to 1-of-14 on third down.
But it still needed one last stop after going up late, and based on how things had gone throughout the streak there was plenty of concern in the stadium that something bad could happen. After all, Arizona had led at home for the fourth straight game but was up in the fourth quarter for only the third time since the start of the 2020 season.
That final drive: a combined sack by Kyon Barrs and Paris Shand, neither of which had won a college game before; an incomplete pass, Shand getting credit for a quarterback hurry; an incomplete pass that Jaxen Turner broke up; and an incomplete pass broken up by Jaxen Turner, with Harris pulling Cal QB Ryan Glover to the ground as he threw it.
“Everybody was just like, we’ve got to make a stop here,” Harris said. “We all wanted to be the one to make the play. I just wanted to make a play. I love to get the quarterback so I was just ready to go and I was excited to get a hit on him.”
Berryhill and fifth-year senior linebacker Anthony Pandy were the ones to douse Fisch with blue Powerade after the game—“we’d been planning it for a while; he deserves it as much as we do,” Berryhill said—and after mingling with fans who stormed the field for a bit he heading into the locker room where the real celebration began.
“The locker room was just insane,” Berryhill said. “Water bottles everywhere. We had one broken light. What do you expect?”