Muasau provides spark as Garbers saves the day in LA Bowl for Bruins
December 21, 2023
In the heart of Inglewood, where the final chapter of the Pac-12 Bruins unfolded, it ended a tale of a season wrapped in peaks and valleys. UCLA stumbled into the LA Bowl, carrying the weight of a brutal final game against California and the aftermath of their defensive coordinator's departure to their cross-town rivals. The team needed cohesion, and they needed it fast.
Amidst the turmoil, there stood Darius Muasau, a beacon of commitment and passion for the UCLA football program. The Bruins trailed the Boise State Broncos 16-7 as halftime loomed. Then, Muasau, alongside the other leaders, refused to let their season end in defeat.
As Muasau has previously done before, he poured his heart, tears, and soul into the UCLA football program, he summoned up one last speech in front of his teammates, challenging them to leave everything on the field in the second half. Then, a fortunate, unfortunate turn of events happened.
Fate had its own narrative to unfurl. UCLA quarterback Colin Schlee, charging with 127 yards on seven rushes, exited the game after a head-banging turf play. In entered Ethan Garbers, sidelined previously due to an arm injury against Cal, ready to rewrite the script. Three plays later, Garbers hit Kyle Ford on a five-yard touchdown pass to close the gap to 16-14
Garbers threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns after replacing an injured Schlee, and TJ Harden rushed for two touchdowns to carry UCLA (8-5, Pac-12 4-5) to a 35-22 LA Bowl win last Saturday over Boise State (8-6, Mountain West 6-2) before a crowd 32,780 at Sofi Stadium.
"This whole week and before the game, I wasn't feeling 100%. When I looked out there (in the second half), and the team needed me, that's my biggest priority. It was an easy call, to say the least," Garbers said. The second half painted a picture of resilience as UCLA mounted a staggering 28 unanswered points, seizing control before a pro-Bruin crowd.
For Garbers, it wasn't about personal triumph but answering the call when his team needed him most. "Coach Kelly says all the time, life is hard, and if you can find a way to get through these battles and win those battles, it's going to help you out in the long run," Garbers said.
UCLA is 8-0 this season, when scoring at least 25 points. With the win, this marks the second time since 1988 that the Bruins have won eight wins in three consecutive years. Coach Chip Kelly praised the team's response, emphasizing the lessons learned from overcoming challenges.
"This is life," Kelly said. "What these guys showed today, I'm really proud of them. I'm really proud of how they responded, and that's what a competitor does. A competitor responds. A noncompetitor reacts, and this group does it every single day. Did the ball bounce our way every single time? No, but that's football, that's what it is, but I think as a football coach, you have to teach life lessons, and sometimes those life lessons are hard, and you have to go through them as a group, and we did, but the performance today by this group was special and it's a truly special group."
Harden carried 20 times for a season-high 105 yards, including two third-quarter touchdowns. J. Michael Sturdivant had four receptions for 142 yards. George Holani rushed 17 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns for Boise State.
As UCLA looks ahead to the offseason and preps for the 2024 season opener against Hawaii, the lingering questions about the team's trajectory continues to leave a lot of questions to be answered.
After QB Dante Moore transferred to Oregon, Kelly got a massive boon with Garber's confirmation that he would be returning to play for the Bruins. But amidst uncertainties, one thing remains, this team's resilience, their ability to turn the tide when the odds are stacked against them, that speaks volumes about their spirit and determination.
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