UCLA scores on late drive to beat Arizona State, giving Chip Kelly first winning record with the Bruins
It was a desperation heave that sailed through chilly desert air, on target to connect in the game’s final seconds and shatter already fragile UCLA hearts.
Bruins safety Quentin Lake measured the trajectory of the ball and made a hard cut toward the end zone, converging with Arizona State’s LV Bunkley-Shelton as the ball arrived.
Both players leaped, Bunkley-Shelton extending both hands to secure the ball and Lake swiping with his right arm to knock it away.
In a blurry instant late Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium, both players tumbled to the ground, along with the ball.
Those fragile hearts remained intact.
Olympic champion Rafer Johnson’s graciousness and humbleness were part of his legend, something that is increasingly rare in today’s me-first world.
Lake rose triumphantly, wagging a finger in the air. His pass breakup with 11 seconds left preserved UCLA’s 25-18 victory and gave the Bruins something they had never experienced before under coach Chip Kelly: A winning record.
It took a stout defensive effort, a late scoring drive from an offense that had sputtered and the return of Lake and several other players who had sat out the last two games because of COVID-19 issues, but the Bruins (3-2) are above .500 for the first time since October 2017.
“It feels amazing,” said UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who directed the winning drive after rejoining practice midweek following a two-week quarantine. “I think the whole UCLA community has been waiting for this and like I said, and coach Kelly said it all along, we’re headed in the right direction.”
Once ahead by 17 points and on the way to what looked like a runaway victory, the Bruins found themselves trailing 18-17 after Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels evaded defenders and cut outside for a one-yard touchdown run with 4:26 left in the game.
That meant a UCLA offense that had stalled for most of the second half with running back Demetric Felton Jr. limited because of a nagging injury was going to have to drive for the winning score.
Thompson-Robinson completed a couple of first down passes to tight end Greg Dulcich before Felton ran 13 yards for another first down and the Bruins gained additional yardage on a facemask penalty, putting the ball at the six-yard line.
An ASU pass interference penalty for pushing wide receiver Chase Cota out of the back of the end zone gave the Bruins the ball at the two.
On a relatively quiet night, Felton scored on the next play, albeit on a strange touchdown. Felton paused momentarily before crossing the goal line with the Bruins in no hurry to score and the Sun Devils (0-2) trying to let him into the end zone to preserve more time for their offense.
Cota snagged the two-point conversion pass to extend UCLA’s advantage to 25-18.
Felton finished with a season-low 41 yards and a touchdown in 10 carries but didn’t seem to care while lingering on the field after the game to exchange pleasantries with Sun Devils players. Nearby, Kelly hugged Arizona State counterpart Herm Edwards, whose team was playing its home opener and its first game since Nov. 7 after having just emerged from its own COVID-19 outbreak.
Mateo Sudipo stopped Brigham Young’s Dax Milne at the one-yard line as time expired to lift No. 14 Coastal Carolina over No. 8 BYU.
The Sun Devils played like a team coming off an extended layoff for much of the game, hurting themselves with penalties and turnovers at inopportune moments.
Arizona State had driven for a touchdown on its first drive of the third quarter with the benefit of a trick play and was one yard away from tying the score on its next drive when the Sun Devils botched the snap for a fumble, allowing UCLA linebacker Caleb Johnson to pounce on the ball.
“I just had to dive for it real quick,” said Johnson, who also collected two of his team’s five sacks.
The Bruins committed their own blunder three plays later when Thompson-Robinson was called for an intentional grounding penalty while under pressure in the end zone, resulting in a safety that shaved the Bruins’ advantage to 17-12.
UCLA defensive back Jay Shaw preserved the Bruins’ lead when he intercepted a Daniels pass in the end zone, ending Daniels’ streak of 202 consecutive passes without an interception.
It had been all UCLA in the game’s early going thanks mostly to Thompson-Robinson and wide receiver Delon Hurt, who also returned after missing the previous two games.
Thompson-Robinson hurdled a defender on a 27-yard scramble in the second quarter and then eluded pressure in the backfield, sprinting for an 11-yard touchdown after his foot clipped the pylon in the end zone. Center Sam Marrazzo hoisted Thompson-Robinson into the air in celebration, the Bruins up 17-0 and appearing on their way to a drama-free evening.
Hurt, who had only one catch in his college career before Saturday, saved Thompson-Robinson from what looked like a sure interception when he snatched a pass that appeared headed for the hands of Arizona State’s DeAndre Pierce. That was before Hurt materialized in front of the ball and wrested it away for a 38-yard gain.
“It was a heck of a catch,” Kelly said.
Hurt capped the drive early in the second quarter when he took a pass at the five-yard line before extending the ball across the goal line for a nine-yard touchdown. UCLA’s Nicholas Barr-Mira tacked on a 44-yard field goal to make it 10-0 later in the second quarter after a promising drive stalled when Marrazzo sent a third-down snap sailing over Thompson-Robinson’s head, leading to a big loss of yardage.
Thompson-Robinson had a strong showing in his return, completing 18 of 24 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown in 15 carries while getting sacked five times. UCLA’s Brittain Brown shouldered much of the rushing load with Felton limited by an unspecified injury, finishing with 94 yards in seven carries, including a 64-yard run in which he kept his balance after taking two hits and appearing headed for the ground.
Thompson-Robinson said he had spent the previous two weeks in an isolation room as part of quarantine procedures, unable to run but allowed to complete limited workouts prescribed by the team.
He was fully unleashed Saturday, along with Hurt and Lake, all combining to take the Bruins where they had never gone before under Kelly.
“We needed all three of those guys,” Kelly said, “to help us win.”
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