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Arizona football beats No. 20 UCLA for 3rd straight win over ranked team, clinching bowl eligibility

arizona-wildcats-football-ucla-bruins-recap-final-score-stats-highlights-pac12-bowl-eligibility-2023 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the third quarter ended, with Arizona leading by seven and bowl eligibility only 15 minutes away, the entire regiment of dressed players assembled in a huddle near the 35-yard line closest to the south end zone. Guessing the words of motivation given by Jedd Fisch were something akin to “finish the job.”

Two plays later, the Wildcats had a two-touchdown lead and were on its way to a third consecutive win over a ranked opponent for the first time in school history.

Arizona beat No. 20 UCLA 27-10 on Saturday night before a Homecoming crowd of 44,956. The victory was the Wildcats’ sixth of the season, ensuring they’ll go to a bowl game for the first time since 2017.

Much as it did last week in holding off then-No. 11 Oregon State, the UA (6-3, 4-2) used a blend of solid defense, mostly mistake-free offense and a key special teams play to become the first Pac-12 team since Stanford in 2015 to win three in a row over ranked teams. This was the Wildcats’ fifth straight game against a ranked foe, falling by seven at home to No. 7 Washington and by two in triple overtime at No. 9 USC before blowing out No. 19 Washington State 44-6 on the road.

Noah Fifita shook off an interception on the UA’s first possession to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-32 passing, with all three starting wide receivers catching TD passes. Arizona ran for 129 yards against the Pac-12’s top rushing defense, which came in allowing 63.1 yards per game.

Arizona’s defense limited UCLA to 10 points on five trips to the red zone while getting three sacks and holding the Pac-12 rushing leader to barely half its normal yardage on the ground. And the special teams contributed its second blocked field goal of the season, though it also had a punt blocked.

Up 14-7 at the half, Arizona used up nearly seven minutes on the first drive of the third quarter but could only get a 37-yard Tyler Loop field goal to make it a 10-point game. UCLA, which had 88 yards of offense before getting 75 on a scoring drive just before halftime, worked its way down to the UA 4 before Ethan Garbers was sacked by Jacob Manu on what was originally called an interception by Ephesians Prysock.

That resulted in the Bruins getting a 28-yard field goal from Blake Glessner to get within 17-10 with 2:28 left in the third.

The Wildcats went back up by two TDs early in the fourth on an 11-yard TD catch by Tetairoa McMillan, one that was originally called incomplete before getting changed via review. That came one play after UCLA was called for a face mask and three plays after Tanner McLachlan hauled in a 30-yard reception on 3rd and long.

After forcing the Bruins to punt, with Garbers getting hurt on a sack, Arizona had its worst drive of the game and then gave UCLA prime field position when Kyle Ostendorp had his punt blocked. But UCLA turned it over on downs for a third empty red zone possession and the UA took over with 7:52 left.

The ensuing play, a short out to running back Rayshon ‘Speedy’ Luke, became a 66-yard gain to the UCLA 10. A 22-yard Loop field goal made it a 3-score game with 4:40 to go.

After forcing UCLA into a 3-and-out to start, Arizona quickly got into Bruins territory before Fifita was picked at the 24 by safety Alex Johnson. It looked like he was targeting Tanner McLachlan but the throw was way behind him, and Johnson returned it to the UA 39.

UCLA got into the red zone but was pushed back and had to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt, which went wide left. Eleven plays later, the Wildcats were up 7-0 on a 9-yard TD catch by Montana Lemonious-Craig with 2:27 left in the first quarter.

The Bruins again got inside Arizona’s 20, but a sack by Taylor Upshaw pushed it back out and caused them to try another field goal. This one, from 41 yards out, was blocked by Prysock.

Fifita found Jacob Cowing on a 9-yard TD with 1:27 left in the first half to make it 14-0, but UCLA responded and scored with three seconds remaining before the break on a 14-yard catch by Carsen Ryan. The Wildcats brought the house on the previous play and UCLA’s offensive line help up long enough for Garbers to hit Logan Loya for a 30-yard gain.

Arizona hits the road next week to take on Colorado. The Buffaloes (4-5, 1-5) lost 26-19 at home to Oregon State.