Roques Leaves Huskies at Point of No Return
Are you ready to Roques and roll?
If you couldn’t already tell that was a labor of love, one look at Ryan Roques’ face after UCLA’s game against Washington told the story.
“I just love punt returns,” Roques said, beaming broadly. “It’s something I’ve always loved.”
UCLA suddenly had a return-man extraordinaire Saturday after Roques took a punt 77 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half of the Bruins’ 36-24 victory--darting among would-be tacklers and emerging time and again to break open what had been a close game.
“I probably couldn’t tell you what I was thinking,” said Roques, a junior cornerback who began his college career as a tailback. “Instincts take over. You just go.”
He nearly scored another touchdown too, but was tripped at the 12-yard line after an 81-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
Roques had 211 yards on six returns--three kickoffs and three punts.
“He has a great knack,” UCLA Coach Bob Toledo said.
Quarterback Cade McNown just enjoyed watching.
“Ryan helped us with his big plays,” McNown said. “He showed unbelievable desire and heart.”
The touchdown Roques scored with 41 seconds left in the first half that put UCLA ahead, 20-10, was the first by a Bruin on a punt return since 1995, when Paul Guidry took a punt back 70 yards against Arizona State.
His 81-yard kickoff return was the longest in many more years. Not since Jojo Townsell’s 100-yard kickoff return against California in 1980 had a UCLA player taken a kick that many yards.
That he was tripped by the last man with a chance--Washington kicker Craig Hawley--ate at Roques until he got another chance.
“I just wanted to get a touchdown. I wasn’t going to let a kicker take me down like on the kickoff return,” Roques said. “I felt people grabbing me, slipping off, a few arm tackles.”
And then he emerged, home-free.
It hadn’t worked out as well earlier, when Hawley got a hand on him and Roques stumbled short of the end zone.
“I thought, ‘That’s a kicker.’ I wasn’t going to slow down and make a move on a kicker. I thought I broke his angle, but he was able to trip me up. It was a good effort by him.”
The Bruins settled for one of Chris Sailer’s five field goals after that return.
Washington had some success keeping UCLA out of the end zone, but not much luck stopping Roques, who emerged as a return man after injuries to Freddie Mitchell and DeShaun Foster and the suspension of Jermaine Lewis.
“The coverage teams, in the kicking game, obviously came up short,” Washington Coach Jim Lambright said. “Coming up short right at the end of the half certainly deflated the team to a certain degree, because you felt good about the fact that you were closing in on them.”
Toledo sensed it too.
“Any time you can get a big play just before halftime, it gives you momentum and puts a little doubt in the other team’s minds,” he said.
Roques was doubting his future as a running back after his freshman year, and switched to cornerback.
“I wasn’t getting the playing time,” he said, and made the switch. “I knew it would take time to learn.”
He’s getting there. He had four interceptions earlier in the season, and sees time as UCLA’s extra corner in nickel situations. Against Washington, he had six tackles and broke up a pass.
But he broke open the game with his big return.
“I love to get the ball in my hands,” he said. “It’s a big rush. You get the ball, you look up, and you know 11 people are after you. You know if you break tackles, make a few moves, you might get to the end zone.”