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Arizona football falls in overtime at Mississippi State

arizona-wildcats-football-final-score-mississippi-state-bulldogs-overtime-jayden-de-laura-turnovers Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

What if I told you Arizona would turn the ball over on its first four possessions yet find itself in overtime on the road in a hostile environment in SEC territory?

Sounds like the tease for a 30 for 30 segment. In reality, it was how the Wildcats dropped their first game this season despite having no business having a chance to win it.

The UA overcame numerous self-inflicted errors, including four interceptions by Jayden de Laura, to force OT at Mississippi State but ended up coming a few inches short in a 31-24 loss on Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.

De Laura’s last-ditch scramble in OT was initially ruled a first down, but after review it was ruled his elbow came down with the ball just shy of the marker. The lengthy review made for an anticlimactic game that had no shortage of drama, including Arizona (1-1) twice rallying from down 14 points despite turning it over five times.

Mississippi State (2-0) took the lead for good on a 29-yard touchdown catch by Jeffrey Pittman, who caught a screen pass as Arizona blitzed and avoided a tackle attempt by Daniel Heimuli before racing to the end zone. The Wildcats went 4-and-out on their OT possession, with de Laura throwing three incompletions before getting flushed from the pocket and trying to take off to keep the game alive.

It was reminiscent of the final play of Arizona’s season-opening loss at Hawaii in 2019, when Khalil Tate ran 30 yards but was tackled at the 1.

De Laura was 32 of 46 for 342 yards with two TD passes and a completely improvised rushing score to go with his four INTs, giving him seven picks in two games against Mississippi State. The first three interceptions ended Arizona’s first three drives, while the fourth came with 4:15 to go in regulation as the Wildcats had a chance to take their first lead.

The UA outgained MSU 431-307, holding Bulldogs senior Will Rogers III to only 162 yards through the air on 13-of-17 passing with three TDs. MSU ran for 145 yards, 123 by Jo’Quavious Marks, but 88 of that came in the first half as the Wildcat defense repeatedly came through after offensive miscues.

Down only 14-7 at the half despite four turnovers, Arizona got the ball to start the third quarter but went 3-and-out. MSU got a short field after a nice punt return, needing to go only 30 yards to regain a 2-score lead.

A 15-yard TD pass from Rogers to Lideatrick Griffin made it 21-7 with 11:07 left in the third. It marked the first points this season the Wildcats allowed that didn’t come off a turnover.

Arizona’s second post-halftime drive went much better, with de Laura going 5 of 7 for 56 yards and hitting Jacob Cowing for a 17-yard TD catch to make it 21-14 with 6:34 to go in the third.

MSU punted on its next two possessions, the second after Jacob Manu sacked Rogers on 3rd and long. That set the stage for Arizona to tie the game at 21 on de Laura’s 11-yard TD pass to Tetairoa McMillan with 9:14 remaining. The drive was kept alive by the Wildcats going for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 29.

A missed tackle and a late hit on MSU’s first play of the ensuing drive got it immediately into scoring position, but Arizona’s defense again buckled down. Justin Flowe tackled running back Jo’Quavious Marks two yards behind the line on 3rd and 3, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for a 36-yard field goal to goup 24-21 with 6:47 left.

Arizona had two drives to go ahead, but the first ended with de Laura forcing a ball to Cowing deep over the middle, with the deflection landing in linebacker Jett Johnson’s hands for his second pick. The UA defense forced a 3-and-out, though, and Arizona was able to tie it with five seconds left in the fourth on Tyler Loop’s 36-yard field goal.

Arizona’s defense looked wholly unprepared for Mississippi State’s run game on the first drive, the Bulldogs getting chunks on the ground to quickly move into the red zone. But the Wildcats forced MSU into a 4th and goal and kept it out of the end zone when Martell Irby forced a fumble on a short pass and the ball went through the end zone.

The UA couldn’t take advantage of that stop, though, as de Laura threw the first of his three first-half interceptions. He forced a throw over the middle to Tanner McLachlan, with the ball getting deflected before hauled in and returned to midfield.

MSU turned that takeaway into seven, on a 23-yard TD pass from Rogers to Griffin.

Three plays later, MSU had the ball back when de Laura telegraphed a third-and-long pass to Cowing in the flat and it was returned 30 yards by Johnson to the UA 6. A 1-yard Marks TD run made it 14-0 lead with 3:27 left in the first half.

Less than 90 seconds ran off the clock before de Laura threw his third pick, this one on a deep ball trying to hit Cowing in double coverage.

Mississippi State had to punt away after that takeaway, and Arizona put together its best drive yet on a possession that began in the final seconds of the first quarter and ran past the midway point of the second. But on the 19th play of the 9-minute, 17-second drive, Cowing fumbled after catching a short pass on 3rd and 2 from the MSU 6 and the Bulldogs scooped it up and returned it its 41.

But once again the UA defense came up big in the red zone, with Ta’ita’i Uiagalelei’s sack of Rogers on 3rd down forcing a 41-yard field goal attempt that went wide right.

Arizona was left with 44 seconds and 77 yards to go, and twice had 50-yard catches on the drive. The first, by Montana Lemonious-Craig, was overturned on replay, but one snap later de Laura found McMillan for a 55-yard pass down to the MSU 1.

What followed was something that nobody expected. Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, de Laura faked the spike and ran into his offensive line, which once it realized what was happening helped push him over the line for a 1-yard TD run to get the Wildcats within a score with two seconds left before halftime.

Don’t believe us? Watch in awe at this madness:

Arizona is back home next weekend to wrap up nonconference play, hosting UTEP. The Miners (1-2) lost 38-7 at Northwestern on Saturday.