Unfortunately for Bruin Nation, it happened exactly the way I had predicted it would.
Having been pushed around the field in their previous encounter with Stanford’s Cardinal, UCLA had a great game plan on defense, and no team fought harder than the Bruins in this Pac-12 Championship Game.
However, despite the outstanding effort that Jim Mora’s team put out on a rainy night in Palo Alto, despite outgaining the Cardinal in total yardage, and despite standing toe-to-toe with the 8th ranked team in the country, it is Stanford, courtesy of Jordan Williamson’s 36-yard field goal, that will head for the Rose Bowl game as they prevailed over UCLA, 27-24, before a fairly wet crowd of 31,622 on their home field at Stanford Stadium.
Now with seven straight wins, this will be Stanford’s first trip to the “Grandaddy Of Them All” since the 1999 season.
The Bruins, just as I had thought, came out hard in the first quarter as Johnathan Franklin, who ended up with 194 yards on 19 carries, scampered 51 yards to open the scoring, the first of his two touchdowns, becoming UCLA’s all-time single season rushing leader as he passed Karim Abdul-Jabbar (no, not the basketball legend as the former UCLA All-American and Laker spells his name differently) to go along with his career rushing record.
After the Cardinal tied the score later in the first quarter, Brett Hundley’s 48-yard run and subsequent touchdown gave the Bruins a 14-7 advantage.
In the second quarter, UCLA was driving and poised to score again when Stanford defensive back Ed Reynolds provided the momentum changer, intercepting the UCLA quarterback and returing it 80 yards to the Bruin one-yard line, where Stepfan Taylor punched it in to tie the game at 14.
Hundley finished with 26 completions and 182 yards in the air, plus a rushing touchdown and that crucial pick.
The contest pretty much became a war in the second half, with UCLA taking a 24-17 lead into the final 15 minutes and the players jumping around befoere hand shouting “We want some more!! We want some more!!”, obviously pumped up.
However, Stanford’s quarterback, Kevin Hogan, who was voted the game’s MVP, became the hero by throwing a touchdown pass to Drew Terrell in the corner of the end zone, tying the affair once again at 24.
Hogan finished with 155 yards on 16-of-22 passes to go along with that scoring throw.
After Williamson’s field goal with 6:49 left in the game put Stanford ahead, the Bruins had the ball last, with no time outs, and converted one fourth down on yet another clutch catch before Ka’imi Fairbairn tried a 52-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
The kick wasn’t even close, and the Cardinal took a knee after that.
I won’t attempt to do any sugarcoating by saying that UCLA fought like wounded and cornered dogs and gave a wonderful effort, which they did.
It’s always rough to take when you throw your best punch at an opponent and still come up short.
“We lost and I’m sad,” said defensive end Cassius Marsh afterwards. “That’s plain and simple. It breaks my heart.”
“We’ll eventually move on, but this one is going to sting a while,” added Mora.
As well it should; it’s only human nature to feel such a way after giving such a strong effort and have nothing to show for it.
In fairness, however, props need to be given to Stanford as they definitely deserve to be the Pac-12 champion. Showing much resilience and mental tougness in the face of the Bruins taking their best shot at them and triumphing in spite of that, the better team – for now – won on Friday night.
Among the signal callers, Hogan played every bit as well as Hundley, and even a little better as it was Hogan who made the necessary plays at the end and it was Hogan’s team that prevailed.
Not bad for a redshirt freshman that started this year on the bench and, coming into this contest, has only started five games for the Cardinal.
Now that the Bruins are dealing with their first losing streak of 2012, all due to that Ivy League-type school in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s up to UCLA to finish Mora’s first season strong – his nine wins are tied with Terry Donahue’s nine in 1976 for the most victories by a Bruin first year coach – and get their 10th win in their upcoming bowl game.
Which although some pundits say it could be the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, I predict that the Bruins will be the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX on December 29th.