PASADENA, Calif. – CSU has always found a way to do more with less, but the football team needs to garner some more killer instinct.
For the third time in as many games, the Rams let their adversary hang around long enough to still have hope as the game came to its waning moments. Against UCLA Saturday night in the Rose Bowl, CSU’s inability to put a team away came back to haunt as it gave up its game-long lead in the fourth quarter, and then watched the Bruins seal their season opener 30-19.
On the road against Virginia in their first game, the Rams escaped with a victory by pouncing on a fumble at their own goal line with just seconds remaining. Then, against Colorado on Aug. 31, CSU again walked the tight rope by letting the game come down to a fourth-down pass that was overthrown with less than 30 seconds to go.
On Saturday, after allowing UCLA to take its first lead of the game at 14-13 on an Akil Harris 1-yard touchdown run with 9:52 left in the game, CSU’s Cecil Sapp fumbled on his own 30-yard line after getting drilled by the Bruins’ Ricky Manning. Manuel White scored on 16-yard run on the ensuing play, giving UCLA a 21-13 advantage and the lead for good.
“We’re not going for kill, we’re not going in the endzone,” said CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, who finished the game 13-for-30 for 91 yards and an interception. “We’re sitting there trying to pitter-patter; trying to get five yards here, get five yards there. That doesn’t cut it with me. We need to go at them.”
They had their chances. Up 13-7 in the third, the Rams drove down to the UCLA 17 after forcing UCLA kicker Chris Griffith to miss his second attempt of the night. On first down, Van Pelt was chased by defensive lineman Rusty Williams.
Instead of taking a sack and starting over on second down, Van Pelt threw for the endzone and was hit while in motion. The ball floated aimlessly until it was brought down by UCLA’s Brandon Chillar at the Bruins’ 7-yard line.
“When you’re up on a team and you have the opportunity to score, you just gotta do it,” said CSU junior linebacker Drew Wood, who finished with six tackles and a sack. “You can’t let a team hang around for the whole game or it’s gonna come get you, and that’s what happened (Saturday.)”
But as usual, CSU made it interesting in the end. Down 21-13 after White’s touchdown, the Rams drove 80 yards on 15 plays, capped off by a/Van Pelt naked bootleg run from seven yards out. Going for the two-point conversion to knot the game up, Van Pelt fumbled while trying to make a last-second pitch to Sapp. The ball was scooped up by UCLA’s Ben Emanuel and taken the distance, giving the Bruins a 23-19 lead.
After recovering the onside kick, UCLA scored four plays later to determine the final margin.
“I’m really happy for this football team,” Bruins head coach Bob Toledo said. “We’re a young team; we battled back and did a good job in the fourth quarter.”
A key reason they did so well late in the game was because the Bruins finally saw some decent field position. After having an average starting field position from its own 15 in the first half, UCLA had an average of its own 30 in the second half. Their first scoring drive started on their own 48, their best starting field position up until that point in the game.
CSU on the other hand, was getting prime field position in the first half. The average was its own 47-yard line, but dropped down in the second half.
“I give credit to UCLA,” CSU head coach Sonny Lubick said. “They’re a good football team, and they stayed in the game all they way. I’m proud of our kids; I don’t think anyone controlled the game, and we were in it for three and a half quarters.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Offense – Cecil Sapp, CSU running back
“The Diesel” continues to steam roll through opposing defenses, this time finishing with 105 yards on 24 carries. He also threw for CSU’s first – and his first ever – touchdown when he hit Joel Dreessen in the back of the endzone from seven yards out.
Defense – Brandon Chillar, UCLA linebacker
The junior led the Bruins defense with 10 tackles, and he also brought in an interception deep in his team’s own territory, thwarting a CSU drive.
Special teams – Dexter Wynn, CSU returner
He took a total of three kick returns for 71 yards, a bulk of it coming on a 55-yard punt return to the UCLA 15-yard line that set up the Rams’ first touchdown. Wynn also had an interception on the night.