The winning scenario might as well have been sketched in the playground dirt. UA center Colin Baxter turned to quarterback Nick Foles on third-and-forever and warned against the running play sent in by Sonny Dykes.
"We need to check out of this play," Baxter said.
"Whatever," said Foles, who ignored his center's plea. "I figured I'd just let (Nicolas) Grigsby do his thing."
In the press box, worried, Dykes instantly suspected that a draw play to tailback Grigsby would likely be stymied when he saw Stanford's charge in a full-out blitz. Baxter had correctly anticipated Stanford's blitz.
"Really honestly," Dykes said 30 minutes later, "it was a bad call that just worked."
Or, in other words, it was a thing of beauty.
Grigsby ran 57 yards for a touchdown, Arizona won 43-38 and the Wildcats were untied from the tracks just as an onrushing train was about to blot out their season.
It was the kind of game that Arizona has rarely won, driving 92 yards in the final 5:27, overcoming a lead and twice making defensive stands when everyone had a splitting headache from all the tension.
"My shoulder is killing me," Grigsby said in the interview room. And then he smiled, the kind of I-don't-really-mind-the-pain expression. In some situations, the power of winning has a way of redirecting the blood flow.
Through all the drama, trailing 38-29 with 11 minutes remaining, yielding 584 yards (more than in any game across two years), and beating a team that crushed its soul in 2007 and 2008, all that matters is that Arizona avoided losing.
Now, indisputably, incontestably, the Wildcats have a chance to win the next two games (UCLA and Wazzu) and fly to Cal on Nov. 14 with a 6-2 record, bowl-eligible, and maybe even ranked in the Top 25.
And it all spun on an unlikely 92-yard drive in the final 5:27. It was the kind of game Arizona historically loses, especially to cap a week in which 12 players were reeling with the flu and another half-dozen were too bruised and sore even to practice.
"It's winning," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "It's advancing."
Foles completed 40 of 51 passes for 415 yards. If you are a long-suffering Arizona QB fan you are rubbing your eyes. It is total disbelief. In what seems like overnight, Foles has thrown for 1,152 yards and nine touchdowns. His completion percentage is a ridiculous 76 percent.
Better than the numbers, he had the savvy to trust his instincts and ignore the don't-call-this-play warning from his capable center when the game was on the line.
"He just has the poise, decision-making and coolness," Stoops said. "He presents a presence for us, and I think other teams feel that presence."
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team played too well to lose until it unaccountably dropped two late passes that could've — would've — won the game, looked at Arizona's numbers and sighed.
"They had a lot of easy gains," he said. "Gains of eight, gains of eight, gains of eight, gains of 10, gains of 12."
Foles was not sacked all night. He stood in the pocket and threw 51 times. How good was his offensive line of Baxter, Phil Garcia, Vaughn Dotsy, Herman Hall and Adam Grant?
At game's end, Foles' uniform was still clean.
"My body feels great," he said.
Arizona averaged 8.4 yards per play and had enough juice to overcome a flat first half. It had enough in the tank to play its best football in the final 15 minutes. Some of that is attributable to the Arizona Stadium crowd of 53,479, one that awakened in the second. And some of it is a credit to the UA defense, under siege all night from what is probably the most balanced offense in the Pac-10.
Stanford's offense was magnifique. With tailback Toby Gerhart supplying the wallop of a small all-terrain vehicle, Cardinal offensive coordinator David Shaw knew that Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops had to commit seven or eight players to the run. Shaw knew he could stun Arizona with more passing than Stanford had shown in six games, and indeed it threw 36 times, 14 more than its average.
Given that leverage and element of surprise, Shaw ordered seven first-down passes in the game's first three quarters. Six were completed for a whopping 160 yards. It made you ask: How did Stanford ever lose to Wake Forest and Oregon State? Gerhart gained 123 yards but was mostly a decoy, believe it or not.
"I'm ecstatic we won," Mark Stoops said. "But I was embarrassed by the way we played."
Style points did not matter. Stoops' defense held the Cardinal in the two-minute drill. Leave it to another poor, overwhelmed defensive coordinator to try to scheme against Gerhart and Stanford's superb young quarterback, Andrew Luck, who, like Foles, is going to be one of the leading men of Pac-10 football for the next 2 1/2 seasons.
When the last of Stanford's passes fell harmlessly on the turf, Dykes caught the elevator, jogged to the field and embraced running backs coach Seth Littrell and receivers coach Dave Nichol. It was a group hug postponed for a week after the unhappy finish at Washington.
"I guess we're geniuses, well, for about the next 10 minutes," said Dykes.
But more than geniuses, the Wildcats are winners.