STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford has been wondering whether Alex Loukas would ever live up to his incredible potential. The junior finally did it against Arizona when the Cardinal were down to their third quarterback and their last chance.
Toby Gerhart dived across the goal line for a 1-yard score with 25 seconds left, capping an improbable last-minute drive led by Loukas in Stanford's 24-23 victory over the Wildcats on Saturday.
Aaron Zagory's extra point provided the decisive margin for the Cardinal (4-3, 3-1 Pac-10), who got their third victory in four games with a comeback led by Loukas, a remarkable athlete who ran and passed with equal aplomb during his high school career in Illinois. He struggled to earn playing time as a quarterback at Stanford, going 1-for-7 this year in brief action, and the Cardinal even lined him up as a receiver several times.
But Loukas was outstanding for 12 snaps against Arizona after replacing injured starter Tavita Pritchard and ineffective backup Jason Forcier in the fourth quarter. Loukas threw just one pass, but his 39 yards rushing finished the Wildcats in highly unlikely fashion.
"We have three good QBs," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Alex got in there and called a couple of formations wrong, but he is a gifted athlete and a determined runner."
Loukas ran for 32 yards on four key plays during Stanford's 65-yard winning drive, which began with 5:42 to play after Jason Bondzio's second field goal of the fourth quarter for Arizona (4-2, 2-1).
After throwing a 21-yard pass to Ryan Whalen and making a key 16-yard run, Loukas gained 7 yards up the middle for a key first down at the Arizona 2 with about 90 seconds left. Gerhart scored two plays later.
"The whole game was back and forth, and it came down to that last drive," said Gerhart, who finished with 116 yards rushing. "We were moving the ball and believing we were going to finish it."
Terrell Turner set career highs with 10 catches for 175 yards for Arizona, which made two strong fourth-quarter drives that stalled inside the Stanford 5. Willie Tuitama went 22-of-34 for 259 yards, but couldn't get the Wildcats into the end zone late -- and Loukas somehow capitalized.
"We ended up kicking field goals instead of getting touchdowns, and that's something we haven't done all season long," said Tuitama, whose Wildcats scored on 25 of their 28 drives that reached inside their opponents' 20 in their first five games. "We definitely should have done better and made sure [Stanford's final drive] wasn't a factor."
Anthony Kimble rushed for 110 yards for Stanford, with a 70-yard sprint in the third quarter setting up a tying 1-yard TD plunge.
Pritchard went 13-for-17 for 113 yards before getting an apparent concussion on a hard tackle late in the first half. Forcier fumbled twice and threw an interception in the second half before Loukas replaced him for the final play of Stanford's next-to-last drive.
"The holes were there, and the line did an awesome job," Loukas said.
Nate Ness returned an interception 75 yards for a score late in the second quarter for Arizona. Mike Thomas, the Pac-10's leading receiver, had just four catches for 31 yards.
Turner's 38-yard catch between two Stanford defenders set up Bondzio's go-ahead field goal from 22 yards with 11:55 to play. Bondzio added another from 23 yards when Arizona's next long drive stalled.
"All we've got to do is get the ball in the end zone one of those times, and it puts pressure on them and gives us distance from them, but we just couldn't do it," Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said.
Arizona took a 17-10 lead into halftime on Nic Grigsby's 25-yard scoring run and Ness' interception return down the Wildcats' sideline in a span of just over three minutes in the second quarter. Stanford got its only TD on an 88-yard drive in the first period, ending in Doug Baldwin's short catch.
Stanford replaced Pritchard to start the second half with Forcier, a junior transfer from Michigan who appeared briefly in two games earlier this season. Though Forcier made several miscues, Kimble broke a 70-yard run to the Arizona 2 on the next drive before pounding in the tying score.
Forcier fumbled another snap for a 20-yard loss after Bondzio's go-ahead field goal, and Harbaugh went to Loukas with 11:10 to play.
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