STANFORD, Calif.”“ UCLA could almost smell the roses.
They could almost feel the Pac-12 Championship trophy in their hands.
They could almost hear their soaked contingent of fans screaming in victorious jubilation as they walked off of Foster Field.
Instead, the No. 16 Bruins (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12) walked out of Stanford Stadium with glossy eyes and broken hearts following a 27-24 loss to the No. 8 Cardinal (11-2, 8-1).
The Bruins will play in the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl against the Baylor Bears on Dec. 27 in San Diego.
“All we’ve been saying this week was “˜Can you smell the roses? Smell those roses.’ And not being able to smell them fucking hurts,” said junior linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who led the team with 12 tackles. “We wanted to give the seniors a Rose Bowl so bad, and we couldn’t give it to them. That’s what hurts the most.”
On a night that saw consistent rainfall, it felt like UCLA was simply one mental error, one slip, one penalty away from going to its first Rose Bowl since 1998.
“It hurts because we know how close we were to playing in the Rose Bowl on January 1,” said redshirt sophomore safety Tevin McDonald. “We played good enough to beat them, but a few things happened that didn’t go our way and we took a loss.”
UCLA’s biggest error came in the second quarter when the Bruins were driving with a 14-7 lead.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley threw a deep ball intended for redshirt senior receiver Joseph Fauria, but it was a intercepted by Stanford safety Ed Reynolds and returned 80 yards to UCLA’s 1-yard line. Stanford scored on the next play to tie the game at 14.
“There were all types of plays that, if it happened in a different way, we could have come out victorious,” McDonald said. “That interception was one of them. That completely switched up the
Despite all of the mistakes and missed opportunities, UCLA had a chance to tie the game with 34 seconds left on a 52-yard field goal. Freshman kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn walked onto the drenched field, prepared to set a new career long, but once again, the Bruins came up just short.
The snap was low and Fairbairn missed wide-left, sealing UCLA’s fate.
“We won with (Ka’imi) and we lost with him,” said redshirt senior Datone Jones, who had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. “That’s my brother and we had his back.”
The loss meant that Jones and all of UCLA’s seniors would not get a chance to play in the Rose Bowl one last time. This group included redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin, who had one of the best games of his record-setting career, rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns against the nation’s best running defense.
“(His performance) was very special,” Jones said. “I wish we could have gotten the win so he could have been the MVP of this game.”
When UCLA plays at the Holiday Bowl, it will be the last time that UCLA’s seniors will take the field in blue and gold.
“Whatever game we play in, I want to win for our seniors,” Zumwalt said. “We have to win for our seniors. They deserve to go out on top.”