PASADENA (AP) — Jim Mora was never far from the UCLA Bruins’ minds while they chased postseason eligibility on another wild night at the Rose Bowl.
After J.J. Molson’s last-minute field goal went through, the Bruins all spared a moment to think about the beloved coach who wasn’t there to see it. UCLA fired Jim Mora last Sunday.
Molson hit a 37-yard field goal with four seconds left after backup quarterback Devon Modster led a clutch scoring drive, and UCLA secured bowl eligibility under interim coach Jedd Fisch with a 30-27 victory over California on Friday night.
Modster passed for 191 yards after replacing Josh Rosen at halftime, and he coolly moved the Bruins (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) into scoring position before Molson drilled the eventual winner. UCLA went 6-0 in Pasadena this season and finished strong under Fisch, who took over last Sunday after Mora was fired late in his sixth season in Westwood.
“We did it for the seniors, for Coach Mora, for Coach Fisch, and for Coach Mora’s legacy,” Molson said. “It’s definitely different without Coach Mora. … There’s kind of a void, but Coach Fisch did a great job of telling us to carry on his legacy. This week was a bit weird, but we just practiced every day and got the job done.”
On Saturday UCLA announced it had hired Chip Kelly as its coach, bringing the former Oregon coach back to the Pac-12 after he tried his hand in the NFL. Kelly went 46-7 in four seasons leading the Ducks, including reaching the BCS championship game after the 2010 season. He won the Pac-12 three times and helped revolutionize offense in college football with his spread, no-huddle offense.
Jordan Lasley set career highs with 12 receptions for 227 yards and a touchdown for the Bruins, who turned in their first unbeaten home campaign since 2005. Lasley made a key 18-yard catch-and-run for a first down during UCLA’s decisive drive.
Fisch, the first-year coordinator of an offense that set a school record with 4,144 yards passing, led UCLA to its fourth win over Cal in the last five meetings between the UC rivals.
“It was so much fun to see those guys playing so hard to get to a bowl,” Fisch said. “Getting to six wins is huge. Ask all those teams that got five, four and three wins.”
Cal tied it with 2:22 to play when Jordan Veasy caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ross Bowers, who passed for 242 yards. Patrick Laird rushed for 178 yards to surpass 1,000 yards on the season, but the Golden Bears (5-7, 2-7) lost for the seventh time in nine games to fall short of guaranteeing themselves a bowl berth in coach Justin Wilcox’s first season.
“It’s hard in this conference to win games kicking field goals all day,” Wilcox said.
Rosen, an elite NFL prospect possibly playing his final home game before declaring for the draft, was sacked three times in the first half. He landed roughly on his right shoulder and neck while getting thrown down by Alex Funches late in the first half, and the Bruins decided not to risk his health further.
“I think he didn’t know where we were coming from,” Funches said. “He didn’t know how we were going to get there, but we got there. We shook him up.”
UCLA took a 17-9 lead into halftime, posting three consecutive scoring drives with plenty of good-looking throws by Rosen.
Cal drove into good field position all night at the Rose Bowl but repeatedly failed to get into the end zone against UCLA’s porous defense. The Bears also lost starting safety Ashtyn Davis, who was ejected late in the first half for targeting.
Molson’s second field goal put the Bruins up 27-17 with 12:10 to play, but the Bears scored on their next two drives.
California: It’s a start, but the finish wasn’t great under Wilcox. Cal lost its final five road games, and it finished with only five victories for the third time in the last four seasons. Still, Wilcox and his coaching staff put down a foundation.
UCLA: The Bruins showed remarkable resilience in a chaotic week and a tumultuous game. While they wait for the announcement of their next coach, they’ll also get the benefit of three weeks of bowl practice to prepare for the future.
Rosen passed for 202 yards and hit Lasley and Theo Howard for scores in his 30th career start before watching the second half from the sideline in a track suit. He fell 24 yards short of surpassing Brett Hundley’s school-record 3,740 yards passing in 2012.
Wilcox was asked about reports linking Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin to the head job at Oregon State, and he had little to say: “Anything concerning Beau is speculation at this point. I talk to Beau multiple times a day, so there’s nothing more to talk about there.”
California: Season over, barring a miraculous dearth of 6-6 teams. “We’re going to let this hurt for a little while, and kind of remember it this whole offseason,” Laird said. “Offseason starts Sunday.”
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