UCLA stuns press box with miracle comeback

PASADENA, Ca.—You should have seen the story I left on my press box computer screen before racing down to the Rose Bowl sideline Sunday night to catch the end of Texas A&M’s rear-end kicking of UCLA.

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It was the story that deserved to be written at the time it was written. It should have stood the test of journalism and time. Nothing short of a miracle, the second-biggest comeback in NCAA history, could have kept it from the annals of history.

You could do a coffee table book on the stories sport writers had to scrap based on things, on the field, that changed.

There’s a good story in my spike-box-in-the-sky on the USC dynasty that was about to unfold with 10 minutes left in the 2005 national title game against Texas.

That was at the Rose Bowl, too.

Back to Sunday: No writer, in his right mind, leaves a 44-24 lead in fourth quarter thinking it is NOT going to hold up.

Shoot, Texas A&M led UCLA by 34 points, 44-10, at one point. Any comeback from that would likely be the school record.

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First, in fairness to what I had in mind, here are a few lines of the story that should have capped a horrible, horrible night for UCLA.

Not a word of the original has been changed.

PASADENA, Ca.—Add to Jim Mora’s hot-seat meter at UCLA these addition readings: humidity, stickiness and extreme barometric booster pressure.

The “new-look” Bruins trotted on to their home turf Sunday, the green-house Rose Bowl, straight into a SEC weather pattern that Pac 12 teams know too well.

It was so hot you could hear the goal posts dripping.

UCLA scored first but still, somehow, the game was almost over before it started.

This was not the way to impress anyone—the crowd, the conference or your athletic director.

This did not look like a bounce-back from a 4-8 season—it looked like a bounce room.

If this was, as some of us called it, the most important game of the Jim Mora era, then things in Westwood are about to go Southwood.

In other words, don’t try this again. Don’t let your AD, Dan Guerrero, get booed the first time his face was flashed on the Jumbo scream.

Don’t let your fans mockingly cheer your second “first down” of the game—with 3:36 left in the half.

Don’t commit two fumbles, in the first quarter, that lead directly to 10 points.

Texas A&M was supposed to be the “distracted” team as the Aggies escaped the wrath of Hurricane Harvey. 

This isn’t the end for Jim Mora and UCLA’s season—it just felt like it.

Get the gist?

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UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen talks to media on field after stunning comeback against Texas A&M

Anyway, what happened after I left my computer screen open is now what they call “one for the books.”

All the things said about Jim Mora suddenly needed to be said about Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin.

UCLA did come back from 34 points down--it was a school record.

It was the first time any team had come back from 34 points down, to win, since Michigan State vs. Northwestern did so in 2006.

Let’s just say the field was a mob scene not long after Josh Rosen, with 43 seconds left, hit Jordan Lasley for a 10-yard scoring pass to tie the game at 44-all.

JJ Molson’s extra point put UCLA up by one as many people, with their smart phones, took pictures of the scoreboard.

UCLA tricked TAMU on the winning touchdown when Rosen got the defense to bite on a fake spike play the Bruins have been practicing.

No way. Impossible. That did not happen.

Texas A&M still had time, and time outs, to knock this miracle back to College Station.

UCLA’s greatest comeback of all time was only sealed when TAMU quarterback Kellen Mond was stopped inches short on on fourth-and nine.

Rosen, probably numb, trotted out to run two “Victory” formation plays.

When the Aggies conceded with nine seconds left by not calling time out, Rosen knew it was real.

“I just said ‘wow,’ we did it,” Rosen recalled.

The “Chosen One” had delivered, but only after shaking off a lackluster first-half performance that led to a cascade of boos.

Oh, before we forget, UCLA scored 28 points in the fourth quarter and Rosen finished with 491 yards, completing 35 of 59 of his passes.

Part of this was Texas A&M choking but part of it was a truly blessed quarterback prodigy stepping up in heroic fashion.

There were other factors.

“We were an inch away from losing the game, probably 10 times,” Rosen said. “Sometimes you just need luck. For God’s sake, that field goal would have put us out.”

THAT field goal was the 43-yard attempt that came up short for the Aggies’ Braden Mann. It would have put TAMU up 47-33, with 3:31 left.

Ball game. The miss supercharged UCLA’s final, stupendous spurt. The Bruins were like sharks, in a feeding frenzy. Rosen found Theo Howard for a 16-yard touchdown with 3:10 left, followed by a TAMU three-and-out, followed by the Hollywood film finish.

The final stat sheet was a football forensics mess. Numbers just jump out at you. Three UCLA receivers had more than 100 yards, led by Caleb Wilson’s 203.

Texas A&M outrushed UCLA, 382 to 63, but lost.

How do you explain such a collapse?

“You don’t explain it,” Sumlin said.

You live with it.

For most of the game it seemed like Mora was going to answer for this, but his bacon, as they say, was saved.

“Look,” Mora, trying to temper his euphoria, said. “It’s one game, it’s one game…it’s one game.”

Oh, it was more than that. It was the win that might have saved Mora’s career. It was the win that wasn’t a loss, followed by a collapse.

It was the game Rosen finally grew up on the same field Sam Darnold led USC to last year’s Rose Bowl win.

“He’s become a man,” Mora said. “And he’s starting to act like a man. And that’s good to see.”

Mostly, though, it was just a miracle, the kind of comeback that comes around like a solar eclipse.

After a win like this, you can swear you were never out of it.

“There were no Debbie Downers, not hang dog looks,” Mora said of a team that trailed, 38-10, at the half.

That all sounds good but Rosen had a better read on it.

“At a certain point you’re not looking at the scoreboard anymore,” he said. “You want to get back to film tomorrow and be proud of what you did in the third and fourth quarter.”

In other words: don’t get embarrassed.

“Give some sort of positive note to build on,” Rosen said. “And one thing led to another…”

And a dozen writers rushed back to their press box computer screens and hit the hardest button you can push under pressure: delete.

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