Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns lofted a pass into the air, toward the corner of the end zone, and it felt like more than a game hung in the balance.
The Cardinal's nearly decade-long mastery of UCLA was on wobbly footing. Bruins Coach Jim Mora was closing in on what could have been the signature victory of his five seasons on the job in Westwood.
For more than 59 minutes Saturday at the Rose Bowl, UCLA's defense had been stout, holding the Cardinal to a trio of field goals to preserve a late lead. Then came the outcome all too familiar for the Bruins.
Stanford receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside leaped to snag the ball with both hands and planted a foot in the end zone before tumbling out of bounds. UCLA cornerback Nate Meadors signaled incomplete with his arms, but his opinion didn't count.
The eight-yard touchdown catch by Arcega-Whiteside with 24 seconds left lifted seventh-ranked Stanford to a 22-13 victory that extended the Cardinal's winning streak to nine games against the Bruins.
As if the late score couldn't provide a sufficiently cruel ending for UCLA (2-2 overall, 0-1 Pac-12 Conference), the Cardinal (3-0, 2-0) blindsided Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen on the game's final play while he searched for a receiver. Rosen fumbled and Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas scooped up the ball and raced 42 yards for a touchdown.
While jubilant Cardinal players mobbed each other in front of their cheering section, Rosen sat crouched in dejection, an emotion shared by most of the crowd of 70,833.
"Well, obviously, that's about as difficult as it gets, and there's not a lot more to say than that," said Mora, who dropped to 0-6 against the Cardinal.
It might have been hard to digest it in that moment, but if the game was a measure of UCLA's off-season changes intended to help better match up with the Cardinal, it was at least a partial success. The Bruins forced two turnovers and held All-American running back Christian McCaffrey to 165 all-purpose yards and no touchdowns.
"We sure weren't pushed around, that's for sure," Mora said.
Still, there were plenty of regrets for the Bruins. Normally sure-handed receiver Darren Andrews dropped a pass in the third quarter. So did receiver Ishmael Adams, who turned his head before the ball arrived on what appeared to be a sure first-down pass.
"He was lucky he had veteran receivers a year ago," UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said of Rosen. "These guys, they're trying."
UCLA defensive back Marcus Rios also gave Stanford a 15-yard head start on its final scoring drive when he couldn't sidestep McCaffrey on a punt fair catch and made contact. Stanford needed a touchdown at that point after J.J. Molson's 35-yard field goal had given the Bruins a 13-9 lead.
Rosen completed 18 of 27 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown, but the Bruins couldn't generate enough first downs to run out the clock after Stanford punted with 4:51 left in the game. A big part of that was an abysmal running game that generated only 77 yards and 2.3 yards per carry.
"We can't go another game without being able to run the ball," Mora said. "I don't care if we're playing the '85 Bears, we have to be able to run the football."
UCLA's 10-3 halftime lead was largely the result of two turnovers. Linebacker Ken-ny Young intercepted a pass and safety Tahan Goodman smacked Stanford receiver Francis Owusu with a helmet-to-helmet hit that did not draw a targeting penalty but forced a fumble recovered by UCLA's Adarius Pickett. The Bruins turned the penalties into a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rosen to tight end Nate Iese and a 27-yard field goal from Molson.
Rosen sounded like he believed the defeat would be only the prelude to another chapter in UCLA's rivalry with Stanford. The teams could conceivably play again in the Pac-12 championship game, though the Bruins face a bit of an uphill slog after dropping their conference opener.
"We're gonna see them again," Rosen said. "We're a million percent going to see them again, and you're going to get a better effort out of us."