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Arizona holds off Stanford 21-20 to snap 6-game losing streak against Cardinal

Arizona tight end Tanner McLachlan (84) hurdles Stanford safety Alaka'i Gilman during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Arizona tight end Tanner McLachlan (84) hurdles Stanford safety Alaka’i Gilman during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez

BY ERIC HEU contributing

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — DJ Williams scored a go-ahead touchdown from two-yards out midway through the fourth quarter to finish off a nine-play drive as Arizona beat Stanford 21-20 on Saturday to open Pac-12 Conference play with a road win.

The Wildcats closed out the win with backup quarterback Noah Fifita under center after starter Jayden de Laura left the game late in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury.

Fifita has played sparingly in two seasons with the Wildcats but came on to complete all four of his pass attempts, including two on the drive that produced the game-winning score. He also was under center as Arizona closed out the win with two first downs on the game’s final drive.

“I think that the control he showed was the most important and impressive thing,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said.

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Fisch did not provide an update on de Laura’s status after the game.

Stanford — coming off a loss to FCS-member Sacramento State in last week’s home opener — entered the game on a five-game Pac-12 losing streak, but had won the previous six contests against Arizona. The Wildcats had not won at Stanford since 2006.

The Cardinal entered the fourth quarter with a 17-14 lead after a Sedrick Irvin 1-yard touchdown run late in the third. But down by a point after Arizona’s touchdown, Stanford could not get a stop as the Wildcats ran out the clock.

The night before the game, Fisch said that he, de Laura and Fifito were listening to a podcast about Tom Brady, and talking about being prepared for any situation. When de Laura was injured Fifita was concerned for his teammate’s health. However, once he entered the game it was “all business.” Teammates came up to him to provide words of encouragement.

“The opportunity that I was provided and the ability for them to trust me in that moment, I really appreciated it,” Fifito said.

Arizona (3-1) took a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter on Tanner McLachlan’s longest career reception. McLachlan’s 36-yard catch-and-run touchdown came after de Laura pumped left, then right before finding the tight end wide open over the middle.

Stanford (1-3) reclaimed the lead before halftime with the help of a pass interference penalty that wiped away an Arizona interception in the end zone. Bryce Farrell ran in from two yards out to put the Cardinal in front 10-7.

De Laura was 14-for-26 for 157 yards in the air, throwing and running for a touchdown before getting hurt. He capped off an 11-play, 66-yard drive on the Wildcats’ first possession of the second half with a 7-yard touchdown run, fooling the defense on a fake handoff to reach the end zone untouched.

The Cardinal rotated between Justin Lamson and Ashton Daniels at quarterback, sometimes in the middle of drives. Stanford head coach Troy Taylor said during the week that both quarterbacks would see playing time throughout the season.

Daniels was 15-for-27 for 202 yards, while Lamson was 4-for-6 for 48 yards but ran for 57 yards. Tiger Bachmeier caught four passes for 93 yards to lead the Cardinal.

“They both did some good things, and they both did some things they could have done better,” Taylor said of the quarterbacks. “Maybe a guy will emerge. They both have potential. They both need to be a little bit more consistent, but they were under some pressure as well.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Arizona: The Wildcats will have to prepare for a tough matchup against a ranked opponent in Washington, with de Laura’s status up in the air. Defensively, Fisch credited his team for holding Stanford to field goals, making the difference in a close win.

Stanford: Despite the loss, the Cardinal responded well after a deflating defeat in their home opener to Sacramento State and seemed to effectively split duties between their two quarterbacks. Daniels said that he trusts Taylor’s formula with the two quarterbacks and that when both him and Lamson are clicking, “our offense is going to roll.”

“We’ve gotten better as a football team since the beginning of the year,” Taylor said. “Now, it’s not going to always show on the scoreboard or whatnot, but our guys are working to improve and getting better. They’re very inexperienced, but they are hungry — hungry to get better.”

UP NEXT

Arizona: Hosts Washington on Saturday.

Stanford: Hosts Oregon on Saturday.