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UCLA football takes down South Alabama with last-second field goal

UCLA football players celebrate. The Bruins pulled out a last-second win over South Alabama on Saturday. (Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)

Football


South Alabama31
UCLA32

By Jon Christon

Sept. 17, 2022 2:54 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 17 at 4:23 p.m.

After a game full of twists and turns, everything came down to the right leg of Nicholas Barr-Mira. 

Down by two points with two seconds on the clock, the Bruins’ five-game winning streak and perfect nonconference record were on the line.

“As a kid, you definitely think about those moments,” Barr-Mira said. “You want those moments. You dream of having those moments.”

The snap was good, hold was good, kick was good. 

The ball sailed up and through the south uprights of the Rose Bowl. Time expired on the snap. And by the time the ball fell from the netting to the ground, Barr-Mira was on the other side of the field, celebrating with a mob of smiling teammates.

“I really feel everybody’s support all the time, whether I miss or make a kick, but especially after that kick,” Barr-Mira said. “It was very cool to embrace everybody and see everybody’s love and excitement.”

Behind a game-winning 24-yard field goal from the redshirt junior kicker, UCLA football (3-0) defeated South Alabama (2-1) by a score of 32-31 on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl. With his fourth field goal of the game, Barr-Mira cemented the Bruins’ come-from-behind effort to claim the team’s longest winning streak since 2005 and end their nonconference slate with a perfect 3-0 record. 

The game-winning drive for UCLA started on its own 33-yard line after an errant fake field goal attempt from South Alabama. A 29-yard reception from sophomore wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala put the Bruins into Jaguar territory. From there, UCLA sidled its way into field goal range while running out the clock. 

The final few plays – six running plays to senior running back Zach Charbonnet and redshirt junior running back Keegan Jones – helped get the ball to the middle of the field for Barr-Mira’s preference, according to coach Chip Kelly.

“We love to go out there and play football, especially when the game’s on the line,” said redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. “That was definitely a fun drive and one we’re going to remember for a long time.”

Barr-Mira’s fourth and final field goal marked the fourth lead change of the contest – a game that started with a 38-yard boot from the kicker to give UCLA a 3-0 advantage.

The early lead was quickly erased by South Alabama with a trio of lengthy touchdown drives in the first half, resulting in a 17-13 halftime deficit for UCLA.

“We talk all the time that three things happen in a football game: momentum swings, random events and adversity,” Kelly said. “The key is if you’re a competitor, you respond when that happens.”

A touchdown pass from Thompson-Robinson to redshirt junior wide receiver Kam Brown followed by another field goal from Barr-Mira put UCLA up six midway through the third quarter.

But, yet again, no lead was secure. South Alabama responded with a touchdown of its own, and a disastrous errant pitch from Thompson-Robinson to Jones to open the ensuing drive gave the Jaguars the ball back in prime position to punch in another score and put the Bruins down eight. 

“I’d say I got a little frustrated at times,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Obviously, we weren’t playing as good as we’d like to.”

A touchdown and failed two-point conversion later, UCLA’s chances rested on getting stops from its defense to secure one more crack at the win.

The Bruins originally had the Jaguars primed for a punt after a stop at midfield, but a late hit personal foul was assessed to redshirt junior defensive lineman Sitiveni Havili-Kaufusi and gave South Alabama another chance to secure its upset victory.

Though the upset bid would be stymied once more. Four plays later, the Jaguars – now in field goal range – trotted out the field goal unit with just over two minutes left in the game but sent their kicker out wide instead and put the ball in the hands of backup quarterback and holder Tanner McGee.

“I’m down in the four-point getting ready to just run through a 300-pounder, and the next thing you know, we just heard, ‘Fake, fake, fake,’” said senior linebacker Carl Jones Jr.  “Everything that was on my mind was just, ‘Go get him.’”

Jones made quick work of the Jaguar understudy, forcing an 11-yard loss that proved the difference in UCLA’s final drive that ended with the leg of Barr-Mira.

“It changed the game,” Jones said. “We drove down the field, offense did their thing, and then Nick finished. So that’s all we could ask for.”

Just two weeks ago, Barr-Mira missed two of three field goals in the Bruins’ season-opening win over Bowling Green.

Against the Jaguars though, Barr-Mira was perfect, making all four of his attempts and connecting on a career-high 49-yard kick in the first half. The four field goals from Barr-Mira are the most from a UCLA kicker since Ka’imi Fairbairn made as many in 2015, and his last kick marked the Bruins’ first walk-off field goal since JJ Molson beat California in 2017.

“We’ve always talked chin up, chest out,” said senior long snapper Jack Landherr IV. “This kid is one of the most resilient kids in the building. … I’m so proud of him, and he deserves all of this.”

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Jon Christon | Sports senior staff
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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