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Special teams and turnovers were the difference. Two missed field goals killed the Cats and a perfectly placed UCLA punt in the final minutes pinned them at their own one when they were down just three.
The Folk miss was especially painful because it capped a series where it appeared that great things were in store for the Wildcats. With the ball near midfield on third and four, Nic Costa took off running and sprinted 43 yards before being taken down at the five-yard line. The Cats fumbled on the next play, losing six yards and two incompletions later the Cats watched the missed field goal sail wide right of the goal posts.
"I thought he was gone, but that guy made a great tackle," said Wildcat interim coach Mike Hankwitz about Costa's run.
The Wildcat defense made a final stop, but Chris Kluwe punted away from Syndric Steptoe and the ball bounced into the arms of a Bruin coverage man at the one-yard line. The Cats had a final chance but a late interception ended any hopes for a final field goal attempt.
Despite the outcome, the Wildcats played their best game of the year.
"I'm so proud of the effort of these guys," Hankwitz said. "We have to point out the positives and learn from the mistakes."
Unfortunately for the Wildcats their mistakes came at critical times. Starting quarterback Kris Heavner threw three interceptions, two came in UCLA territory and another was returned for a touchdown. Those mistakes will overshadow a fine passing performance where he threw for 187 yards, completing 13-20 passes.
Arizona finally put together a stellar offensive game. The team racked up 519 yards, rushing for 276. The line opened holes and the Wildcat runners responded.
"Our line opened up huge holes," Costa said. "You can't get better play from an offensive line and our backs took advantage of it."
Arizona fans got what they wanted, early carries from Clarence Farmer. The senior runner got his first start of the season and responded with a 29-yard gain on the game's first play. The Cats, who have had difficulty even getting first downs the past few weeks, found themselves on the move. A 12-yard completion to Biren Ealy got the team its second first down. The next play Heavner went back to the air and found Lance Relford on a crossing pattern that the receiver took to the seven-yard line.
Last week against Washington State the Cats used Nic Costa in the redzone to surprise the Cougars and did the same thing this week. With first and goal Costa spelled Heavner and rolled out. The Bruins respected his speed, leaving Matt Padron wide open in the back of the endzone for an easy score the early 7-0 lead.
The Cats' bend-but-don't-break defense continued to shine in the first quarter as the Cats forced a Bruin turnover in the redzone and after a 37 yard punt return. UCLA had to settle for a field goal, narrowing the Cats lead to 7-3.
UCLA did not crack the endzone until the second quarter when Spencer Havner intercepted a scrambling Heavner. A personal foul put the Bruins in good field position. A long pass gave the Bruins the ball at the 18, and on the next play Tyler Ebell broke three tackles on his way to a 13-yard touchdown run and 10-7 Bruin lead.
The Wildcats would not stay down long. They brought Costa into the game to start the next drive, however it was another backup who came up big. Mike Bell took two consecutive inside handoffs for 41 and 23 yards. Farmer went for seven on the next play, but two shorter runs had the Cats facing fourth and one. Farmer kept the drive alive, and two plays later Costa hit the senior tailback wide open for a one-yard touchdown pass. Arizona regained the lead, 14-10.
The UA defense stiffened and forced turnovers on consecutive possessions. Lamon Means blitzed and caused a Matt Moore fumble, but Bobby Gill missed a short field goal. On the ensuing possession, Means tipped a Moore pass that Clay Hardt picked off and returned to the Bruin 40. Two plays later Heavner found Ealy all alone for a 38-yard score and a 21-10 UA halftime lead.
The Bruins responded to start the second half. They marched down the field thanks in large part to a 43-yard completion. The Wildcat defense held and forced a 30-yard field goal, but an offsides penalty gave the Bruins second life. They responded with a five-yard touchdown run by Manuel White.
Heavner's third interception was a killer. The Cats tried a shovel pass, but defensive end Rodney Leisle picked off the pass and rumbled 55 yards for the go-ahead score.
Arizona drove to the UCLA five, but missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game with 5:28 left.
A last-ditch drive that started at the one ended when Justin London picked off Costa at the UA 40.
Arizona amassed over 500 yards total offense, but turned the ball over four times for 14 UCLA points. The UA also missed two field goals and gave UCLA extra life by jumping offsides on a field goal attempt that was later converted into a touchdown.
The Wildcats get a week off before heading to Berkeley for a showdown with the Cal Bears.
"I know every week we are getting better," said a surprisingly upbeat Farmer. "This Wildcat team is on the rise.
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