Fifita leads Arizona to 27-24 win over No. 11 Oregon State

(Arizona Athletics)
Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 2:40 PM MST|Updated: Oct. 30, 2023 at 3:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona’s first season under coach Jedd Fisc was all about resetting a shaky foundation. The Wildcats took a step forward in Year 2, winning five games while proving to be much more competitive.

Arizona has taken a big leap in its progression this season, capped - at least so far - with consecutive wins over AP Top 25 teams for the first time since 2014.

Noah Fifita threw two touchdown passes to Michael Wiley in the fourth quarter and Arizona beat No. 11 Oregon State 27-24 Saturday night for its second straight win over a ranked opponent.

“Our kids have put so much time and effort into trusting everything we’ve asked them to do,” Fisch said. “And what an awesome, awesome experience for them to get that big win - and add a little smile myself, too.”

The Wildcats (5-3, 5-2) had a week off following a 44-6 win over then-No. 19 Washington State that matched their largest margin of victory over a ranked team.

Arizona maintained its momentum against Oregon State (6-2, 3-2) behind Fifita.

The sophomore threw for 275 yards on 25-of-32 passing and three touchdowns, hitting Wiley on passes of 40 and 3 yards in the final quarter. Wiley missed the previous three games with an ankle injury.

Once among the nation’s worst defensive teams, the Wildcats showed off how much better they are on that side of the ball, holding Oregon State quarterback DJ Uiagalelei in check most of the night while limiting the Beavers’ run game.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game, so we had to go out and out-physical them,” Arizona linebacker Jacob Manu said.

Uiagalelei hit Jimmy Valsin III on a 20-yard touchdown with 1:38 left, but Oregon State couldn’t come up with the onside kick. Uiagalelei finished with 218 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-30 passing. Oregon State finished with 131 rushing yards, more than 50 below its average.

“We should have won the game, but we left stuff out there,” Uiagalelei said. “We’ve got to clean that up.”

Fifita has played well since Jayden de Laura injured his ankle in Week 4, throwing for 924 yards and eight touchdowns in a little over three games.

De Laura is healthy again, but Fifita got the start against Oregon State.

The sophomore was solid at the start, opening with a 7-yard touchdown to Tetairoa McMillan in the back of the end zone, then set up Tyler Loop’s 51-yard field goal. Fifita threw an interception near midfield late in the first half, but Oregon State couldn’t capitalize, leaving the game tied at 10-all at halftime.

Fifita moved Arizona into position for another Loop field goal early in the third quarter, this one from 25 yards, and found Wiley on the 3-yard score with 2:22 left.

“He’s a leader,” Fisch said. “He just brings a different type of swagger and confidence into the huddle that can’t really be emulated.”

The Beavers made it look easy on their first drive, picking apart the Wildcats on a 75-yard drive capped by Uiagalelei’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Jack Velling.

The rest of the first half was a struggle against Arizona’s vastly improved defense.

Oregon State had to settle for a field goal after reaching Arizona’s 12-yard line in the second quarter and tried an ill-advised fake field goal from the 16 on the final play before halftime. The Beavers had scored on all 27 of their trips into the red zone this season before the failed fake.

“I just rolled the dice on that one and in hindsight, it was not good,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said.

VELLING’S RECORD

Velling’s touchdown catch was his eighth of the season, breaking the Oregon State single-season record by a tight end.

He had been tied with Tim Euhus (2003) and Joe Newton (2004, 2006).

Velling’s eight touchdown catches also leads all FBS tight ends this season.

THE TAKEAWAY

Oregon State: The Beavers will likely take a big fall in next week’s AP Top 25 and now have a steep climb to reach the Pac-12 Championship game after an inconsistent night in the desert.

Arizona: Fifita may have supplanted de Laura as Arizona’s quarterback for good and the Wildcats’ defense had another solid night against a ranked opponent.

UP NEXT

Oregon State: Plays at Colorado next Saturday.

Arizona: Hosts UCLA next Saturday.