Fresno State prevails in back-and-forth battle vs. No. 13 UCLA

Fresno State husky Justin Houston celebrates after getting defensive stop against UCLA on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (Tyler Van Dyke/The Collegian)

After the UCLA Bruins took the lead, 37-33, with 57 seconds left in the game, it seemed like Fresno State football’s chances of upsetting the No. 13 ranked team in the nation were fading away. 

But losing was something Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener did not have in mind. The senior quarterback took the field – his body banged up after four quarters. He missed his first pass to Ronnie Rivers. 

But after that, Haener didn’t miss. He led the offense down the field, completing pass after pass. He lined up for the snap, backed up and threw a bullet to wide receiver Jalen Cropper on the right side of the end zone. 

Pandemonium followed. For a moment, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena sounded like the Bulldog Stadium as the Red Wave took over with “Fresno State!” chants. The Bulldogs held on to the 40-37 lead, taking down the Bruins.

“It’s special. Just so happy for the guys. Finding the coaches and seeing the smiles,” Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to where these things happen and you win the big games, you want to celebrate and go crazy, but there’s also a piece where you just want to see these guys smile, laugh, take pictures, get big hugs, be loud, and enjoy the moment and enjoy each other.”

As Haener threw the game-winning touchdown pass, he went down to his knees and pointed up to the sky. Fighting through the pain, the senior quarterback had the willpower to show out on the field. 

At one point, Haener was being treated for his injuries on the sideline pop-up tent.

“We know he’s tough. We’ve seen that over the course of last year and this year,” DeBoer said. “He got better when the pressure was greater. I really feel that.”

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly also had a lot of praises for Haener.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to Jake. That is as good of a performance as I’ve seen a quarterback make in my career,” Kelly said. “I’m not sure if he ever threw a bad ball. He had great command of everything we were doing. He did a good job, looking at some of the disguises, the protections, knowing to get the ball off.”

Haener ended the night going 39-for-53, 455 yards and two touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Cropper. 

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener celebrates in Rose Bowl Stadium against No. 13 UCLA on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (Tyler Van Dyke/The Collegian)

The Bulldogs’ victory over No. 13 UCLA was the highest-ranked team they’ve beaten since the AP Poll was established in 1936, according to ESPN. 

Fresno State has now beaten UCLA in four straight games dating back to 2003.

The game started as a shootout.

Fresno State had its back against the wall in the second offensive drive of the game. After marching its way down the field, UCLA’s defense began blitzing on the Bulldogs, resulting in a loss of 9 yards. A delay of game penalty added an extra loss of 5 yards.

On third-and-24, Haener connected with wide receiver Ty Jones for a 25-yard gain and a first down. A couple of plays later, the Bulldogs scored on a 1-yard rush by running back Ronnie Rivers. The two-point attempt was no good.

But the Bulldogs’ 6-0 lead was short-lived. 

In under two minutes, the Bruins orchestrated a five-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a Zach Charbonnet 6-yard touchdown run to put UCLA up 7-6 with 3:59 left in the first quarter.

Fresno State responded on its next drive. A 19-yard pass from Haener to wide receiver Keric Wheatfall set up a 1-yard end-around run from Cropper. 

The Bulldogs regained their lead to start the second quarter.

However, on the ensuing kickoff, UCLA’s Kazmeir Allen had a 66-yard return to place the Bruins at Fresno State’s 26-yard line. 

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson followed it up with an 8-yard run to put his team in the red zone, but Fresno State’s defense stuffed the running game at the line. 

UCLA settled with a 39-yard field goal from kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira, cutting its deficit to 13-10.

Fresno State added two more scores in the second quarter: a 36-yard touchdown the right sideline from Rivers and a 21-yard field goal from kicker Abraham Montaño to lead 23-10 heading into halftime.

UCLA wasted no time in the third quarter, as Thompson-Robinson connected with Kam Brown for a 39-yard touchdown to shorten Fresno State’s lead to 23-17.

Montaño recorded his second field goal of the night, this time from 39 yards out. The Bulldogs led 26-17.

During the fourth quarter, Haener and the Bulldogs were on UCLA’s 9-yard line looking to extend the lead. But as Haener dropped back, Bruins Carl Jones Jr. poked the ball out of Haener’s hands. 

The ball took a big bounce backward after a couple of players weren’t able to scoop the ball cleanly. UCLA took over on its 43-yard line with the Bruins. Three plays later, Thompson-Robinson found Kyle Philips for a 42-yard touchdown pass to make the game 26-24 with 8:10 left in the game.

Fresno State had another costly turnover in the very next play of its new drive. Haener completed a pass to Josh Kelly, but Kelly fumbled the ball and UCLA took over in the red zone. 

The Bruins took advantage of it. Thompson-Robinson rushed down the field at the 3-yard line to set up a Charbonnet touchdown to give UCLA the 30-26 lead.

Haener came back on the field and fought through the pain he was enduring. He was able to hit wide receiver Erik Brooks for a 19-yard touchdown to regain the lead 33-30.

But UCLA does not make games easy, and they quickly responded. Thompson-Robinson hit Phillips for another touchdown.

With 54 seconds left, the Bruins had a 37-33 lead over Fresno State.

But Haener’s heroic performance salvaged the victory for the Bulldogs.

“The heart that this team has is unbelievable,” Rivers said. “Not one time during that game did we not feel that we were going to win. It’s an amazing feeling. This is my first time being in the Rose Bowl, so I’m excited.”

After going 3-1 in non-conference play, the Bulldogs will open up Mountain West play against the UNLV Rebels this upcoming Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.

Previous Story Three takeaways from Bulldogs blowout victory over the Mustangs article thumbnail mt-3

Three takeaways from Bulldogs blowout victory over the Mustangs

Next Story Simplify Your Skincare Routine With These Tips article thumbnail mt-3

Simplify Your Skincare Routine With These Tips