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Arizona Is One Kick Better, 10-7


PULLMAN, Wash. — Arizona and Washington State played in a Pacific 10 Conference showdown Saturday that lived up to its billing.

Defense, defense and more defense.

That's what was expected and that was what was played as Arizona held on to defeat the Cougars, 10-7, to take sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 before a standing-room-only crowd of 37,600 at Martin Stadium.

In a game that saw Arizona's Matt Peyton and Washington State's George Martin combine for 20 punts, the Wildcats survived a last-minute field-goal attempt for the second consecutive year when the Cougars' Tony Truant missed what would have been the game-tying kick from 44 yards with 16 seconds to go.

"I knew going into the game that it was going to come down to a field goal," said Arizona kicker Steve McLaughlin, whose 27-yard field goal in the third quarter proved to be the difference. "Just look at the two teams and their defenses, plus how the games ended the last two years, and you had to figure that a kicker would decide the outcome."

Last season, Aaron Price missed a 49-yarder on the final play of the game in the Wildcats' 9-6 victory at Tucson. Two years ago, Price made a 47-yarder with 31 seconds left to give Washington State a 23-20 victory.

Arizona, which started the game ranked No. 14, is 3-0 in the Pac-10 and holds a half-game lead over USC and a one-game lead over Washington State and California.

With a 5-1 overall record, the Wildcats control their own destiny in their search for the first Rose Bowl berth in school history, and they can thank their defense for their success.

Arizona, which started the game with the nation's No. 5 scoring defense, shut down the Cougars for all but one play, sacked Washington State quarterback Chad Davis seven times and limited the Cougars to five yards rushing.

"We knew that we had to come here and just shut them down," Wildcat linebacker Sean Harris said. "We knew that we couldn't let them get started and gain any confidence. We had to take it to them for the whole game, and that's what we did."

Washington State did gain 224 yards in total offense, thanks to Davis--who completed 15 of 30 passes--but the Wildcats stopped the Cougars when they needed to, except for one big play in the first quarter.

After two possessions that ended in punts to start the game, Washington State scored first on a first-down pass from deep inside its territory.

That's when Davis pump-faked to lure Arizona cornerback Spencer Wray forward and then lofted a deep pass to Albert Kennedy, who outfought Wray for the ball to complete an 85-yard scoring play with 5:24 remaining in the quarter.

For a while, the Cougars, who began the game with the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation, gave Arizona's offense problems with an eight-man defensive front that shut down the Wildcats' running game.

With linebackers Mark Fields and Ron Childs playing almost at the line of scrimmage, Arizona tailback Ontiwaun Carter--who had averaged 141 yards rushing a game--scarcely found room to run early as he gained only 37 yards in 15 first-half carries.

Arizona turned things around when it forced Washington State to punt from its goal line to start the second quarter. With good field position for the first time in the game, the Wildcats took three plays to drive to Washington State's 34.

On a third-down and inches, Arizona caught the Cougars sleeping when quarterback Dan White faked an inside handoff to fullback Jason Patterson over right guard and passed to a wide-open Tim Thomas down the left for a 34-yard touchdown to tie the score, 7-7.

Thomas, a senior walk-on tight end, could not have picked a better time to make the first catch of his career.

"Dan looked right first and then he looked right at me," Thomas said. "I knew I was open. . . . I just didn't want to drop the ball. But once I caught it, there was no way I was not going to get into the end zone."

McLaughlin's field goal with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter made it 10-7 and from there it was a matter of ball control on offense and bend-but-don't-break defense.

Washington State can now only hope for help to reach Pasadena on New Year's Day for the first time since 1931.

"We wanted to win so bad that at times, I know I was trying to score myself," said Washington State defensive end Dwayne Sanders, who had two sacks and three pass deflections. "It's frustrating, because we felt that this is our year to go to the Rose Bowl."

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