TUCSON, Ariz. -- With Stanford, Washington and USC just ahead, the sign should read, "Bumpy road ahead."
It looks a little bumpier after Saturday night, when 18th-ranked Oregon State ripped the collective heart out of Arizona Stadium by beating UA 38-35 in what turned out to be a shootout.
The Wildcats have now lost two straight and know they have some work to do.
We have another test coming, said Arizona senior receiver Dan Buckner. It hurts. But we fought. There are positives in the game as well as negatives. Its never as bad as it seems and never as good.
"Its a long season. Its not even halfway done.
But an opportunity has been lost, in large part because the UA defense simply couldn't keep Oregon State from ripping off big plays at the worst possible times. Big plays ruled the day, and and although Arizona had plenty, it was Oregon State that had more and more meaningful ones.
And when it mattered most, Arizona just couldnt stop Oregon State -- period -- on the game-winning drive in the final minutes.
They made the plays at the end to win, and we didnt, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said after his team fell to 3-2 overall with its second consecutive loss.
Arizonas last-ditch effort -- the Wildcats got the ball back with just over a minute left down by three -- fell flat or, more specifically, fell into the arms of Oregon State defensive back Rashaad Reynolds with 38 seconds left after Reynolds cut in front of receiver Tyler Slavin for an interception at the UA 42-yard line.
"We had a chance to win at the end, but we didnt execute, said Rodriguez, visibly upset in the postgame interview.
Its not clear what Scott's other options were on the final play, and Rodriguez wasn't specific in his analysis.
"There are five options on some of those routes, Rodriguez said. I dont know what Matt saw, and they made a nice play out of it. (But) its never one play to beat you. Not one that beat us."
There were plenty of plays that beat UA, the biggest of which came when Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion hit tight end Connor Hamlett for the game-winning touchdown with 1:09 left.
"It was great to catch that ball, especially since it was my first touchdown, said Hamlett. The play was called to go to me, so I did my best to make it."
The touchdown completed Oregon State's late-game comeback -- after Arizona had rallied from an early 17-0 deficit to take the lead -- and gave the Beavers their sixth straight win at Arizona Stadium. It also allowed Oregon State to stay unbeaten heading into October for the first time since 2000.
The two teams played dueling quarterbacks for most of the second half. Mannion finished with a career-high 433 yards, hitting 29 of 45 passes and finishing with three touchdowns. That was good enough to outduel Scott, who had a career-high 403 yards. while going 31 of 53 yards and throwing three touchdown passes of his own.
But it was his final pass that proved to be the difference.
With five minutes left, it appeared UA was on the verge of knocking off its second ranked opponent of the season (Arizona defeated then-No. 18 Oklahoma State 59-38 three weeks ago) after Austin Hill hauled in a 7-yard touchdown catch to put the Wildcats ahead 35-31 in a back-and-forth game. They just couldn't couldnt stop Mannion and Co.
They had a lot of guys wide open, Rodriguez said of his defense. When we blitzed, we couldnt get to the quarterback, and that makes it really tough on our DBs. Our defense hangs in there.
"They battle. They give up a lot of yards and a lot of points, but they try as hard as they can."
After a relatively mundane first half that ended with Oregon State ahead 17-7, each team showed more passion in the second half.
Rodriguez wouldnt say what he told his players after the game but said he believes halftime rah-rah speeches are overrated.
Arizona scored on its first possession of the half when Scott found Hill for a
3-yard score, then scored again on the next drive on a 24-yard run by Ka'Deem Carey that ended with Carey dragging multiple defenders into the end zone to put the Wildcats ahead for the first time at 21-17, setting up the late-game exchange of touchdowns.
You want the momentum to swing your way, said UA safety Marquis Flowers. We
did it against Oklahoma State, and Im confident in our offense. But we couldnt pull it off."
As for whether he took solace in the way his team dug out of an early hole and gave itself a chance to win, Rodriguez was frank.
"Losing is losing."