First off, let’s all acknowledge that having this game on the PAC-12 Network at night was stupid, especially since we had to miss half of the first quarter so Oregon could finish blowing out Stony Brook. So one of the greatest games in recent memory for Fresno State was on late at night on a network that only a few people get. So if you missed it, I am very sorry. Luckily, YouTube highlights will show you the incredible ending. Moving on.
Secondly, let’s start construction on Jake Haener’s statue right now. I’d say retire the number, but we already did that for Kevin Sweeney, so statue is the next best thing. His absolute heroics in the 4th quarter will be remembered and passed down for generations to come like Vince Wesson’s touchdown catch in 1982, or Bernard Berrian’s kick return in 2001. Add it to another 73% completion night with 455 yards through the air, and you have a legendary Fresno State QB performance.
Fresno State got the first score of the day, with Ronnie Rivers taking a wildcat snap from 1 yard out. Then I’m guessing to really show what they wanted, Fresno State tried a 2pt conversion on a trick play. Punter Carson King took the snap, and almost completed it to Raymond Pauwels, but it fell out of Raymond’s hands to keep things 6-0. These missing points would become defining later in the game, but we’ll get to those down the line.
It did not take UCLA long to respond, as they were able to answer with a 5 play, 73 yard drive to go up 7-6 on a Zach Charbonnet run. The most amazing thing to come from this game was the massive disparity in possession time and play count. By the end of the first half, the Dogs had run 49 plays, while UCLA had run 16. The second scoring drive for the Bulldogs was a 14 play, 79 yard march down the field leading to a 10yd Jalen Cropper touchdown catch to go back into the lead 13-7.
After the touchdown, UCLA almost instantly answered, as Kazemir Allen took the kickoff back 66 yards before Mac Delana chased him down at the 25. Watching Mac chase him down showed his incredible speed, and even Allen was amazed that he was caught. Now it was up to the Fresno State defense to hold the line, and hold the line they did. Even with UCLA starting from the Bulldog 25, they only surrendered 6 yards, holding the Bruins to a field goal. The score now stood at 13-10, and LA was done scoring for the first half.
Remember what I said about massive disparity in play count and time of possession? Well, it happened again, as Fresno State answered UCLA’s 4 play, 6 yard drive with a 7 play, 75 yard drive capped by a 36yd Ronnie Rivers run into the endzone for his second score of the night to double up the Bruins and jump ahead 20-10. The theme through this game was Fresno State able to completely and utterly dissect the Fightin Chip Kellys defense all evening as they rolled up 569 yards of total offense.
After one more UCLA punt came one of the most bizarre sequences I’ve seen in awhile. A deep Jake Haener pass was intercepted, his first one of the year, setting the Bruins up at the 33 yard line. On the very next play, UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson let the ball slide out of his hands in echoes of the Jameis Winston fumble in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Fresno State pounced on it, and actually ended up in a better field position than they were when Haener threw the INT. The last minute before the half was all about getting some more points on the board, and Abraham Montano obliged by booting through a 21yd field goal to go ahead 23-10. At this point, most casual observers probably expected a blowout victory, but Fresno State fans have been burnt enough to know better.
Coming out of the half, UCLA got the ball, and executed a 6 play, 75 yard drive to pull back within 6 points on a Kam Brown touchdown reception. Abraham Montano would again push the lead back out to 9 points, this time with a 39 yard field goal to ahead 26-17. On their next drive, the Bruins would attempt a 4th down conversion by running DTR out to the edge, where he was met and destroyed by Levelle Bailey and Evan Williams. Not sure I’ll ever understand why they thought an option play with no option was a good idea on 4th and 1, but I’ll take it. Unfortunately, Fresno State would try their own 4th down play on the ensuing drive that also failed, so a bit of a wash there.
After driving back down the field, and preparing to stick the dagger in, Fresno’s second turnover of the day was one of the strangest. After faking the handoff to Rivers, the ball was knocked out of Haner’s hand. A UCLA player went for the scoop and score, but only succeeded in scooting the ball down the field. Jalen Cropper then tried to fall on it, only for it to squirt away from him before UCLA finally fell on it near mid-field. The only thing missing was the Benny Hill music. It was also at this point that the famed PAC-12 officiating began to rear its ugly head. DTR hit Kyle Phillips for a 42yd touchdown that really did not look like one on review, as the ball clearly moved and hit the ground as he landed, but they gave them the touchdown.
The refs would follow up that funky call with another one to benefit UCLA, as Josh Kelly “fumbled” the ball after his forward progress had been stopped. Guess the refs just forgot that they had whistles at that exact moment, because the Bruins got the ball again deep in Bulldog territory. The Bruins would take the lead on this drive, with Charbonnet running in from 3 yards out to send them up 30-26. This would begin one of the craziest 4th quarters in recent memory, as the lead would change 4 times in the last final 8 minutes of the game.
Jake Haener began his ascent to legend status on this drive, as he methodically drove the team down the field, despite multiple offensive penalties, as he hit Erik Brooks at the pylon with a 19yd touchdown pass. The bunch look on the boundary side allowed Brooks to slip behind the defense, and a perfect strike to Haener put the Dogs back in front by 3 points. Haener did this despite being injured on the drive, as two UCLA defenders sandwiched him on an uncalled late hit that put a helmet directly into his right hip. He was clearly hobbled, but nothing would stop the legend of Jake Haener from bringing home a victory.
You’re not really a long-time Fresno State fan if you didn’t expect the Bruins to answer back and take the lead again. After a phantom PI call on Daron Bland put UCLA at the 15, Kyle Phillips again found paydirt with 54 seconds to go to seemingly seal the deal 37-33. All seemed lost, but this is when Jake Haener and the Bulldog offense would truly ascend to the pantheon of Fresno State greats.
54 seconds, 75 yards, and a clearly hobbled QB. Like they say, big time players make big time plays. And that is exactly what Jake Haener and the offense did. The first pass fell incomplete to Ronnie Rivers, then two straight completions to Jalen Cropper on the sideline had the ball into UCLA territory. Josh Kelly caught an acrobatic bullet on the sideline down to the 12, and a Ronnie Rivers completion would make it 2nd and 11 at the 12 yard line with 18 seconds to go. Then, this happened-
JAKE. HAENER.— Mountain West (@MountainWest) September 19, 2021
LET'S GO @FresnoStateFB!#AtThePeak | #GoDogs pic.twitter.com/c3IiCF4IEQ
An absolutely perfect pass from Jake Haener to Jalen Cropper at the pylon completed the miracle, as Haner fell to the ground in pain. He truly has ice in his veins, and the complete trust of the coaching staff to have him out there. With shades of Byron Leftwich being carried down the field, nothing could stop Haener from getting the team to the endzone when it mattered most. This was a drive that truly exemplified the Bulldog spirit and mentality, and will be remembered forever.
The Bruins did have one final chance at glory, but DTR’s heave to the endzone was batted down about 15 yards shy. After falling inches short two weeks ago against Oregon, this felt like redemption for this team. The party was on in the Rose Bowl and back in Fresno, as they have now defeated the Bruins 4 times in a row, 3 straight at the Rose Bowl. And with this victory, came rankings. Fresno State now checks in at #22 in the AP Poll, and #24 in the Coaches Poll. The Coaches Poll ranking seems like a bit of a mistake, since they’re currently one spot behind the UCLA team they just beat. That should fix itself next week if the Dogs win again.
Looking ahead, Fresno State will return home for a Friday night tilt against the 0-3 UNLV Rebels. Hopefully they’ve got Jake Haener icing and resting today, he has certainly earned it. Now to make sure everyone is healthy, as now it’s truly crunch time with the conference schedule. For everything Mountain West, make sure you keep it glued here.