PASADENA “”mdash; The UCLA offensive line walked toward the sideline, raising their arms in an attempt to rally the Rose Bowl’s crowd during a timeout late in the fourth quarter of its game against Arizona State on Saturday.
It was unfamiliar territory for the Bruins and their fans. Crowds haven’t had much to rally around recently but this one smelled of a fateful win for UCLA. After all, redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Prince had just found senior wide receiver Nelson Rosario to convert third-and-29 that had them dead to rights.
Now, all the Bruins needed was a yard to take the lead, not only in the game but in the Pac-12 South title race, a crown the Bruins haven’t worn in more than a decade. Not to mention, before the Sun Devils called the timeout, everyone in the stadium knew the ball was going to senior running back Derrick Coleman, the workhorse of the UCLA running attack. When the huddle broke, Coleman rumbled his way into the end zone to seal the biggest win of the season, 29-28.
“That’s what we live for,” Coleman said. “That’s why I strap my shoulder pads on. My linemen did their job and at the end of the day, we had one more point than they did.”
The drive nearly capped a roller coaster of a game that still did not want to come to a halt. No. 20 Arizona State marched the ball down the field in a drive that included an illegal forward pass and a pass interference penalty ““ while the crowd hung on every word of the referee’s arduous explanation ““ to set up a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal.
“Before he kicked it, I knew I was either going to be laid out crying on the ground or running around screaming in excitement,” junior cornerback Sheldon Price said.
The latter of Price’s scenarios proved true as Arizona State kicker Alex Garoutte’s kick never had a chance, falling short of the goal post and turning the field into a dance floor for the new Pac-12 South leaders.
“This was the craziest game I’ve played in my whole football career,” senior wide receiver Taylor Embree said. “I mean, shoot, we had to earn every point. It seemed like everything was stacked against us. This victory feels so good just because of how hard we had to fight for it.”
UCLA (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) went up by nine points after the half and looked to be running away with it when Prince found Rosario on a 73-yard touchdown that saw Arizona State (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) take the bait of a Prince pump fake.
Things quickly started to unravel when the Sun Devils put 14 unanswered points on the board and redshirt senior kick returner Josh Smith fumbled the successive kickoff.
The Bruins started to look like the same team that got blown out by Arizona just 16 days ago. Now, they’re riding a winning streak for the first time this season.
“It’s a 180-degree turn,” Prince said. “We were at one of the lowest points that I’ve seen in this program and we got smoked on national television. Being in that position, with all the rumors about Coach Neuheisel, it was a bad spot. This team has been great at responding so it’s great to see us come back and win a game like this.”
Although the win only ties UCLA with Arizona State and USC for the Pac-12 South lead, USC is ineligible for postseason play and if their records remain the same, the Bruins would hold the all-important tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
“It’s huge,” Embree said of being in the conference lead. “But that just means we have a target on our back. We can’t be complacent.”
Don’t expect coach Rick Neuheisel’s Bruins to get caught up in that, though. They did it once before and it resulted in the blowout loss to Arizona. Neuheisel said he has found “a formula to be successful” during the two-game winning streak.
“It’s about getting involved with the brass tacks of what football is all about ““ hard work, fundamentals, concentration and teamwork.”