Dan Buckner's last-ever play at Arizona Stadium was unexpected - and painful.
The Arizona Wildcats senior wide receiver left the Nov. 23 Territorial Cup game against Arizona State in the first quarter, his injured left ankle hurting so badly that he couldn't play.
But after the UA scored a last-minute touchdown to cut Arizona State's lead to 41-34 with 1 minute 54 seconds remaining, the Wildcats' onside kick team was summoned to the field.
Buckner, who had been a part of the unit all season, grabbed his helmet and ran onto the field. Nobody stopped him.
"I didn't sneak on the field," Buckner said this week. "I will go out on a limb, though, and say I might not have been the best man for the job in that point in time. But I was called to go out there, and I did the best job I could."
Coach Rich Rodriguez said: "In hindsight, he shouldn't have been in there. We should have had someone in there who was 100 percent."
Not that it mattered: the Wildcats' attempt failed, and ASU won.
Fortunately for Buckner, his final play at Arizona Stadium won't be the lasting memory of a five-year, two-school college career. The 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound receiver is expected to play when the Wildcats take on Nevada in the Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl. Shoulder and ankle injuries suffered over the last six weeks should be healed by then, Buckner said, at least enough to let him be productive.
The Wildcats need him. Here's why:
1. He's productive. Buckner's 59 catches are second on the team behind Austin Hills' 73. No other UA receiver has more than 25 receptions. Buckner is also second to Hill in both yards (741) and touchdowns (five). Only one other receiver, freshman David Richards, has more than two.
Buckner's effectiveness takes some of the heat off Hill, the UA's budding star. With the senior playing one of the two outside receiver spots, Hill - a sophomore - can move inside to the slot, where he's more effective.
2. He's passionate. Buckner's boisterous personality rubbed some teammates and coaches the wrong way when he transferred to the UA from the University of Texas two years ago.
In time, though, Buckner has shown he's much deeper than he seems. Over the past two seasons, Buckner has matured into an unlikely leader and ideal teammate.
Tailback Ka'Deem Carey, the UA's best player, said Buckner "brings a great spirit - he always has."
"I feel like I have to go out there and play for him," Carey said. "He brings a great mark to this team."
3. He's proud. Buckner has been impressed with his team's 7-5 regular-season mark, even if three games - losses to Stanford, Oregon State and ASU - could have also gone the Wildcats' way. Buckner played in a Bowl Championship Series national title game, but he saw no such success at the UA.
Simply making the postseason this season after missing it a year ago is an accomplishment, he said.
"Some people didn't think we were going to be able to win six, and here we are trying to win No.8," he said. "We had our football banquet the other day. Holding back emotions the whole time. I was like, 'Man, we've been through a lot.' It doesn't matter what anyone says about us; just get ready."
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• What: New Mexico Bowl
• Who: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
• When: 11 a.m. Dec. 15
• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM