Reporting from Corvallis, Ore. -- No pain, no gain.
UCLA cornerback Sheldon Price was giddy, even if he had to hobble off the field with a sprained knee after knocking down a fourth-down pass that finally allowed the Bruins to exhale Saturday.
“What pain?” Price said following the Bruins’ 27-19 Pacific 12 Conference victory over Oregon State at Reser Stadium.
Safety Dalton Hilliard, sitting at the locker next to him, left shoulder in a sling, took it from there.
“Winning makes it all feel better,” he said.
The Bruins, battered and bruised, did more brow-wiping than chest-pounding after what appeared to be a rout turned into an eight-point victory. But for the first time since 2007, UCLA won its conference opener.
“We have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a good football team,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said.
“You can’t downplay how important it is to taste victory,” Neuheisel said.
The Bruins (2-2, 1-0 in conference) sampled it before. But beating San Jose State two weeks ago didn’t cleanse the palate, and there was still the bitter aftertaste from the 49-20 beating Texas administered last week at the Rose Bowl.
So a victory, even against a winless Oregon State team that lost to Sacramento State in its opener, was a satisfying.
“This was huge for us,” linebacker Patrick Larimore said.
The Bruins appeared in for an easy day, leading 21-3 before Jordan Poyer’s 85-yard punt return at the end of the first half tilted the momentum.
The game became a referendum on how far the UCLA defense had come in a week.
Twice in the second half, the outcome rested with the defense. Twice the Bruins made plays.
Defensive end Damien Holmes buried running back Terron Ward on fourth and one at the UCLA 34-yard line with the Bruins leading, 21-19, with 10 minutes left.
“You could tell our guys smelled the win,” defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said.
UCLA — which had 211 yards rushing, 100 from Derrick Coleman — drove 66 yards and got a one-yard touchdown run by Anthony Barr for a 27-19 lead. However, a blocked extra point kept it a one-possession game.
Price then stepped in front of wide receiver James Rodgers to bat away a fourth-down pass at the UCLA 22-yard line with four minutes left. The Bruins ran out the clock while Price iced his knee after “tweaking it” while doing a pirouette in frustration when he dropped the ball.
“I had all kinds of green in front of me,” Price said. “The guys always give me hard time about having bad hands.”
As maligned as Price felt personally, the Bruins’ defense as a whole had taken a beating after allowing Texas to ramble for 284 yards rushing.
“When you’re giving up running yards up the middle, that attacks your pride,” linebacker Sean Westgate said.
Oregon State ran for 88 yards.
The Beavers (0-3, 0-1) did have 287 yards passing, including a 45-yard touchdown pass from Sean Mannion to Jordan Bishop that cut UCLA’s lead to 21-19 in the third quarter.
“We kept them inside our defense better,” Tresey said. “Yeah, they got outside two or three times. But Texas got outside eight. We can build on this.”
The Lego pieces included:
Westgate’s interception gave the Bruins a short field and Richard Brehaut finished a quick drive with a five-yard touchdown run.
Defensive end Keenan Graham recovered a Mannion fumble at the four-yard line. Jordon James scored on the next play.
Alex Mascarenas intercepted a Mannion pass on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the score after Bishop’s touchdown.
“When you stare into the abyss and respond, that’s a huge confidence boost,” Neuheisel said. “You can’t take anything away from our defense. You can’t say this about our opponent or that about our opponent. You either blink or you don’t.”