This post was updated Sept. 22 at 2:48 a.m.
PULLMAN, Wash. –– Demetric Felton made his mark in the first half with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
But with just over a minute remaining in the game, the redshirt junior one-upped himself.
UCLA football (1-3, 1-0 Pac-12) trailed No. 19 Washington State (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) 49-17 with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter, but the Bruins came out on top 67-63 late Saturday night. Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson hit Felton on a screen and the wideout took it 15 yards into the end zone to complete the team’s best comeback since Sept. 3, 2017, against Texas A&M.
“I was probably the happiest man in the world for my boys,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I couldn’t stop but cry, just knowing how hard … these guys work everyday and stuff like that. We put in so much time and effort into this, and to see it all pay off finally is definitely special.”
The Cougars had one last shot at victory with a minute left to play, but redshirt senior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South – who was making his season debut – forced a fumble to seal the deal. Coach Chip Kelly clenched his fist, smiled and jumped in celebration.
“The one thing we knew (Lucier-South) had was his ability to rush the passer, and I think obviously on the last play it was critical for us in a critical situation,” Kelly said. “It’s good to have him back with us. He’s a special kid and our players were excited that he got an opportunity to come back and finish it out the right way.”
UCLA had gone from boasting a 0.1% chance at winning with under 20 minutes left in the game – according to ESPN – to escaping Pullman with a victory.
“I had some crazy games in high school, but nothing like this,” said sophomore wide receiver Chase Cota.
The Bruins got the ball for the go-ahead drive on a forced fumble by senior linebacker Krys Barnes. One play earlier, however, Kelly passed up the chance at a game-tying, 35-yard field goal attempt in favor of going for it on 4th-and-5 with 2:38 remaining.
The conversion attempt failed and the Bruins were down by three with time ticking away.
“I was up as close as I could on the sideline cheering (the defense) on,” Cota said. “We knew they had it in them, and so to see them make those stops when we needed them in the second half, I mean, they came when we needed them.”
Barnes forced the fumble just seconds into the following Cougar drive and redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods recovered, giving the Bruins a chance to take the lead. Four plays later, they did.
UCLA’s defense forced four fumbles on Washington State’s final eight drives and picked up an interception and turnover-on-downs in the first quarter, as well.
There were three lead changes in the final eight minutes of the game, the first of which came on a 69-yard punt-return touchdown by redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Philips. That score put the Bruins up 60-56, but the resurgence started 11:17 minutes prior in the hands of Thompson-Robinson.
Thompson-Robinson – who finished the game with a career-high 507 yards on 25-of-38 passing and five touchdowns – opened up the comeback with his first career rushing touchdown on a carry from the 1-yard line.
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon completed a pass to wide receiver Rodrick Fisher to open the following drive, but four Bruins piled on and stripped the ball. The referees elected to review the play, but the call stood – met with the booing of Cougar fans throughout Martin Stadium.
Seven seconds of game time later, Thompson-Robinson delivered a strike to Cota for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 49-31. The two had connected on a Hail Mary just before the break, but the 61-yard completion fell one yard short of the end zone and the Bruins entered the break down 35-17.
“I knew I was inside the 5 and I was just thinking, ‘Turn around and score,’ and then there were two guys right there, so it didn’t happen,” Cota said. “I was hoping to get it in, but oh well, we came back in the second half.”
Five plays later, the Bruin defense forced the Cougars to punt for the first time all night. UCLA got pinned on its own 6-yard line on the 37-yard punt, but the poor field position didn’t slow down Thompson-Robinson.
On the first play of the drive, the signal-caller hit Felton on a short completion, but Felton – who had a 100-yard kick-return touchdown in the second quarter – ran it 94 yards to cut the deficit to 11.
“We got the same look that we got during Oklahoma,” Thompson-Robinson said. “(Felton) took advantage of it and I just gave him the ball and he did the rest for me.”
Felton led the Bruins with seven receptions, 150 receiving yards and 10 targets, in addition to 13 rushing yards and 100 yards on special teams.
The Cougars picked up nine yards on the ground to start the following possession, but redshirt sophomore cornerback Jay Shaw forced the Cougars’ second fumble of the half and gave UCLA the ball back on its own 49.
The next drive ended four plays later with Thompson-Robinson’s fourth touchdown pass of the night – this time to redshirt junior tight end Devin Asiasi. With that pass, the Bruins had scored four touchdowns on their last seven plays. Thompson-Robinson hit Cota on a jump ball for a two-point conversion and UCLA was down by just a field goal.
Washington State scored on its next drive to stretch the lead back to 10, but 23 rushing yards by redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley and an eventual 3-yard rushing touchdown by Thompson-Robinson made it a 56-53 game with 8:10 remaining.
Thanks in part to his career-high 57 rushing yards, Thompson-Robinson broke UCLA’s all-time single-game total yards record with 564.
“Nothing (Thompson-Robinson) did tonight surprised our coaching staff or our players,” Kelly said.
Gordon – who threw a Pac-12 record nine passing touchdowns in the game – went 0-of-3 on the drive following Thompson-Robinson’s second rushing touchdown. The Cougars’ punt unit came back out on the field, which led to Philips’ punt-return score in the fourth.
Washington State punted twice on the night and accumulated 720 yards – the most UCLA has allowed since 1929. The teams’ combined 130 points were also a Pac-12 record.
The Bruins avoided their second-straight 0-4 start with the third-largest comeback victory in FBS history and will head to Tucson to face Arizona on Sept. 28.