PASADENA, CA- Stanford junior quarterback K.J. Costello stepped up in the pocket, loaded up and fired a 52-yard touchdown rocket to sophomore wide receiver Osiris St. Brown. Senior running back Bryce Love ran the ball in for two, and the Cardinal snagged a 49-42 lead over UCLA with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Stanford held on throughout the final minutes to prevail against the Bruins, 49-42, behind 344 yards and 5 touchdowns from Costello.
“Really proud of K.J. [Costello] – he’s coming into his own, and over the next year it’s kind of what we thought when we started the recruiting process,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in America. He sees things really well.” He added, “Excited about our guys coming back. We did not play perfectly.”
With a chance to cut the deficit to four, UCLA junior kicker JJ Molson missed a 53-yard field goal attempt. The Bruins held Stanford to a quick three-and-out, and reclaimed possession from their own 15-yard line. Redshirt junior tight end Caleb Wilson caught a Wilton Speight pass and sprinted down the left sideline, cut to the middle and dashed towards the right side of the field for a gain of 66 yards. Speight was sacked for a loss of 8 yards on fourth-and-15, however, gifting Stanford a costly possession with under two minutes left.
The UCLA defense forced Stanford to punt again, this time on fourth-and-7. UCLA held one final shot to tie or win. Wilson grabbed a 19-yard completion, but got rocked to the ground by a Stanford defender.
Freshman cornerback Kendall Williamson scooped the ball out of Wilson’s arms, and the ruling on the field was a fumble. Upon further review, however, officials determined Wilson was targeted on his way to the ground. As a result, UCLA advanced and kept possession with an automatic first down.
Shaw said of the targeting call, “It’s the right call. It’s the call they have to make.”
Speight threw an incomplete pass on fourth down inside the Stanford 43-yard line with nearly 30 seconds to go, turning the ball over on downs and sealing a Cardinal Victory.
“Obviously, that’s very hard when you’ve got that opportunity there and you can’t capitalize,” Speight said.
Love gained a game-high 85 yards on 22 carries and one score. Senior receiver Trenton Irwin caught seven passes for 103 yards and one touchdown. Biletnikoff Award finalist and senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside torched UCLA defenders with 106 yards and three touchdown catches.
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said of Arcega-Whiteside, “He’s obviously one of the more talented receivers in this league, and he’s a precise route runner. But I think his size is kind of what separates him from some of the other receivers in this league.” Irwin added, “[Arcega-Whiteside] is a threat. You can see with his hat-trick that he is an impact player and he was having fun.”
Speight compiled a career-high 466 passing yards, completed 29 of his 47 throws, tossed one interception and ran for one touchdown. His performance was the fifth-most passing yards in one game for a UCLA quarterback.
Redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley ran 18 times for 55 yards and two scores. Kelley finishes the season with 1,243 yards. He ran for at least one touchdown for the eighth straight game.
Freshman running back Martell Irby led the Bruins with 6.7 yards per carry and contributed one touchdown, the first of his college career. Wilson caught nine passes for 184 yards. Stanford was his third 100-yard receiving game of 2018. He caught a pass for the ninth game in a row.
Theo Howard added 88 yards on five receptions. He caught at least one pass for the 28th straight game. Howard’s 119 career receptions are now tied for the 16th most in UCLA history.
Kelly said, “Yeah, I mean we had our opportunities today, but we just didn’t capitalize on them. Give Stanford credit. They came up with the plays when they needed them at the end of the game, defensively.”
Kelly kept the UCLA offense on the field for a crucial fourth-and-5 early in the third quarter. Redshirt sophomore tight end Devin Asiasi came up big for the Bruins, hauling in and running for a 25-yard gain. Irby dashed for a 12-yard touchdown, one play after, to tie the score at 27.
Costello answered right back, leading the Cardinal 75 yards over 10 plays in five minutes. Arcega-Whiteside caught his second touchdown pass of the game, this time from 23 yards out to put Stanford back on-top, 34-27. UCLA started at their own 21-yard line, but fumbled one play into the possession. Speight lost the ball while being sacked and junior defensive end Jovan Swann recovered for Stanford.
Arcega-Whiteside hauled in his third touchdown reception four plays later, as Stanford extended their lead to 41-27 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. The Bruins drove inside Stanford’s 30-yard line, only to see sophomore Cardinal cornerback Paulson Adebo pick off Speight at the 3-yard line.
Bruins DB Darnay Holmes speaks to the media about his 93-yard kickoff return TD in #UCLA’s 49-42 loss to #Stanford pic.twitter.com/VY2emYNuZr
— Blake Atwell (@blakeonsocial) November 25, 2018
Sophomore defensive lineman Martin Andrus swung the momentum right back in the Bruins’ favor, however, by stuffing Love in the end-zone for a safety. Holmes returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards, cutting Stanford’s lead to 41-36 with two minutes remaining in the third.
A third-and-2 from the Stanford 17 saw Ezeike snatch a 16-yard completion. Speight faked the run and waltzed past the pylon to give UCLA a 42-41 advantage with 9:27 left in the game. The Bruins went for a 2-point conversion and failed.
A wild end to the first half begun with Costello hitting Irwin for a 37-yard touchdown. It took Stanford just 3 plays to score from 37 yards out, after the Bruins were forced to punt from inside their own 5-yard line. Despite a slow start from Speight, the UCLA passing offense kicked into high gear. Redshirt senior receiver Christian Pabico picked up 29 yards and freshman receiver Michael Ezeike followed with a gain of 19. Howard hauled in a 25-yard completion to place UCLA inside the Cardinal 2-yard line.
It took the Bruins offense five tries and a defensive offsides penalty to score, but Kelley labored through a pile of offensive and defensive linemen to make the score 24-20. Just 37 seconds of first half football remained, but the Cardinal weren’t done scoring. Senior running back Cameron Scarlett returned the UCLA kickoff 77 yards, setting Costello and the Stanford offense up at UCLA’s 26-yard line.
Two pass interference penalties against the Bruins advanced Stanford to the 2-yard line. Costello’s pass fell incomplete with six seconds left, and Shaw chose to take the points. Jet Toner hit a 20-yard field goal, giving Stanford a 27-20 lead to close the first half.
Facing third-and-11 on Stanford’s first possession, Costello tossed an interception to UCLA redshirt senior defensive back Adarius Pickett. Pickett returned the ball 22 yards to set up UCLA inside Stanford’s 23-yard line. A quick three-and-out forced by the Stanford defense brought JJ Molson out to attempt a 38-yard field goal. Molson netted the kick to give UCLA a 3-0 lead, less than two minutes into first quarter action.
After trading possessions with the Bruins, Costello guided a 5-play, 62-yard scoring drive to put Stanford on the board. Arcega-Whiteside hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass to put Stanford ahead 7-3 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Stanford junior outside linebacker Jordan Fox sacked Speight for a loss of eight yards on third-and-9 to put the ball right back in Costello’s hands. The Cardinal drove inside Bruin territory and extended their lead to 10-3, after Toner nailed a field goal from 30 yards out.
In response, the UCLA offense briefly caught fire. A drive that started from their own 25, UCLA quickly moved into scoring position. Kelley bursted down the sidelines for a 23-yard pickup and Howard gained 21 yards one play after. Facing third-and-13, Speight threw incomplete, but Stanford’s defense was flagged for roughing the passer. The Bruins advanced to Stanford’s 18-yard line before attempting a 35-yard field goal. Molson converted on his second kick of the first quarter, cutting Stanford’s lead to four at the end of one.
The Cardinal opened second quarter competition by driving 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by large passing gains to Arcega-Whiteside (22 yards) and tight end Colby Parkinson (33 yards). Love finished off Stanford’s scoring possession from 2 yards out. Stanford extended their lead to 17-7 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half. UCLA fired right back with a 75-yard scoring drive of their own. Kelley capped off the Bruins’ 9-play possession with a 12-yard touchdown to bring UCLA back within four, 17-13.
Stanford and UCLA gained a combined 998 yards of total offense. UCLA gained the edge in passing yards (466 to 344), while Stanford outgained the Bruins in rushing yards (126 to 62). UCLA ran 17 more plays than the Cardinal did, but lost the average yards per play battle (7.0 to 6.3).
UCLA finished its 2018 season at 3-9 overall and 3-6 in the Pac-12.
When asked about his initial thoughts of the season, Kelly said, “The game just ended three minutes ago? I think that I’ll take a little bit more time before I reflect on that.” He added, “I think that our team showed up to play in every game this season.”
Kelly kept the focus on UCLA’s efforts of growing a young team.
“They learned how to compete every single week, and I’m proud of their effort. We just need more weapons.”
Stanford improves to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in Pac-12 play, with one more game to play against rival Cal (6-4 overall, 3-4 in Pac-12) next Saturday (Dec. 1). The Cardinal have now won each of their last 11 meetings with UCLA.
“I truly believe this is the future Pac-12 championship game right here,” Shaw said. “What [Kelly’s] starting to do here, I’m really excited for him. Thankful that we won the game today but give a lot of credit to him. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching these two teams play over [the] next few years.”
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.