UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers already had one notable touchdown this season entering Tuesday’s EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium, a leaping interception in the end zone against Oregon.
And after picking off Temple quarterback Vaughn Charlton at the 2-yard line and waltzing into the end zone for what would be the decisive touchdown of the Bruins’ 30-21 bowl win, Ayers pointed out the big difference between the two acrobatic plays.
“This play helped us get the victory,” he said.
Ayers was named game MVP for his fourth-quarter score that was part of the 23 unanswered points UCLA rode to victory.
Clinging to a 21-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Temple attempted a simple screen pass on third-and-20 from its 8-yard line. Charlton pumped to his right and turned to throw to tailback Matt Brown in the left flat - but instead he threw it right to Ayers.
“We didn’t execute. That’s the bottom line,” Temple coach Al Golden said. “[Ayers] made an excellent play. I don’t think our quarterback got his head around and saw exactly where he was throwing it. I lament the execution of that. We just wanted to get some room to punt. For that to end up netting a touchdown for them is unimaginable.”
Charlton started hot, going 3-for-3 for 74 yards and a touchdown on the Owls’ opening drive, but the second half was a struggle. After Temple gained 241 yards in the first half, UCLA made most of the plays in the second. Temple managed just 41 yards in the second half, and Ayers had the game-defining play.
“I was coming from the defensive end spot and it was a passing down, so I tried to get a good push off the snap and get to the quarterback,” Ayers said. “But when I took off I slipped, so I just tried to scramble back to my feet and put myself back into the play. As soon as I got up, I was in position to make a play.”
Slipping and sliding
The chilly temperatures in the District caused some unforeseen problems. As the night wore on and the sun set, the field became increasingly frozen. Players had trouble with their footing, and each team’s playcalling was handcuffed.
“The field had frozen over, so there was a lot of skating on top of it,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. “Some of the plays that require digging your cleats into the ground and misdirection or counter-action, you couldn’t do as much. You had to be aware of that, and that had to be factored into the game plan.”
It apparently also factored into the game-changing play. Charlton said he didn’t see Ayers before throwing it right to him, and that was likely because Ayers slipped at first.
Citing the icy field conditions, Golden and Neuheisel were hesitant to kick field goals and decided to go for it on fourth down on their team’s first drive of the third quarter. Each play went in UCLA’s favor.
On fourth-and-1, UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince hooked up with Terrence Austin down the right sideline for a 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown. On the ensuing drive, the Owls went for it on fourth-and-1 inside the UCLA 10-yard line but were stuffed.