Kevin Craft comes through for Bruins
The cast of characters showing a little character had two leading men.
The senior quarterback who conjures up horrific memories of bad passes . . . interceptions . . . defensive backs celebrating in the end zone . . . from a last season UCLA fans would love to forget.
The freshman cornerback who is so skinny teammates would like to send him back to the table for seconds . . . and thirds . . . and maybe slip in a midnight snack or two.
Kevin Craft, poster boy for a 4-8 season in 2008, came off the bench to put UCLA back in the win column. Sheldon Price, an example that three square meals are not always enough, made sure of the 24-23 victory over Washington on Saturday.
It ended UCLA’s seven-game Pacific 10 Conference losing streak, which stretched to last season. It also left Coach Rick Neuheisel open for criticism -- but only for his postgame rendition of the UCLA fight song over the public address system at the Rose Bowl.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” said Craft, who threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in the second half after starter Kevin Prince was injured. “That is as much fun as I have ever had.”
Craft rallied the Bruins (4-5 overall, 1-5 in conference play) from a 23-14 third-quarter deficit. He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass and set up a 27-yard field goal by Kai Forbath seven seconds into the fourth quarter.
All that was left was for the Bruins to survive two final Washington drives. One ended in a missed field-goal try, the other ended on Price’s determination, as he deflected the ball away from receiver Jermaine Kearse, with safety Rahim Moore intercepting the ricochet to give UCLA the ball at its 26-yard line.
The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Price was beaten by Kearse on a 34-yard touchdown pass that gave the Huskies a 23-14 lead early in the third quarter. This time, he out-positioned the receiver.
“I figured they got to go deep,” Price said. “This time I squeezed him out of bounds. I turned around, the ball is right there, put hands up for it, touched it, and all sudden Mr. Ballhawk Rahim came out of nowhere, snapped it up.”
That secured the Bruins’ first victory since they defeated Kansas State on Sept. 19.
“I couldn’t even jump up and down when it was over,” linebacker Reggie Carter said. “I was like ‘phew.’ It’s great to walk into the locker room and not be disappointed, not be upset, not be mad.”
So instead of trudging into Pullman (Wash.) next week to battle Washington State for last place, the Bruins can try to link consecutive victories for the first time since September 2007.
Said Neuheisel: “To keep coming back, to keep fighting like that, is easy to preach, it’s harder to get done.”
Still, the Bruins won despite themselves.
Washington (3-6, 2-4) had 241 yards in the first half, sauntering through the UCLA defense. The Bruins handed over the ball five times.
The Bruins also lost Prince, who passed for 212 yards before halftime but was clobbered by linebacker Donald Butler. The helmet-to-helmet hit drew a personal foul penalty and knocked Prince out of the game because of a concussion.
After one series with freshman Richard Brehaut, UCLA turned to Craft, who had not taken a snap in practice in two weeks and has a history that makes Bruins fans nervous.
“Mentally, I’m always in practice,” said Craft, who had a school-record 20 passes intercepted last season, six returned for touchdowns. “I don’t get to throw individual routes or take snaps with the team, but I throw after practice with [tight end] Logan Paulsen.”
Craft completed 10 of 14 passes. He did have one intercepted, but he also found a wide open Terrence Austin, who dived for the ball, lost it, then rolled over and snagged it again in the end zone.
“I jumped up and started celebrating so it would look like a catch,” Austin said.
Craft then led a field-goal drive, completing two passes for 41 yards and scrambling for another 13 yards.
Said Neuheisel: “Kevin is a kid who is finding a way to stay happy and still be engaged. It’s rough when you got to go through all the preparation that the game plan takes with the notion that you’re not going to play.”
The game was then left to Price, who, Carter joked, “needs to eat more because I need him to hit someone. I tell him he’s too skinny every week.”
And every week opponents have tested Price, and the Huskies were no different.
“They come at me, that’s fine with me,” Price said. “You just make plays and make them stop picking on you.”