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80 minutes of rugby between two ranked programs came down to a conversion off the foot of UCLA’s flyhalf. Lined up near the left touch line, Ben Francis’ successful kick gave No. 15 UCLA the 31-29 win over No. 24 Arizona at Sitton Field in Tempe, Ariz. A slow first half birthed an action-packed second half where the game opened up with a total of seven tries.
“It was contested with errors on both teams early,” UCLA head coach Scott Stewart stated. “Once we got settled and we got our first score and they got the rest, it was contested pretty competitively in the first half. In the second half, in the first 20 minutes, we were able to loosen up a little bit and move the ball, which created some openings for us.”
“In the last 20, Arizona came back and brought a lot of pressure on UCLA and kept the ball on our half of the field and were able to come away with points. We were very fortunate at the end to keep possession and maintain continuity to get the ball over the line. Ben [Francis] kicked a really good kick at the end to give us the opportunity to win the game.”
UCLA struck first with a pick-and-go over the line by prop Brad Ross. Francis kicked the conversion for the early 7-0 lead. The tally would remain until three minutes left in the half when Arizona hooker Cam Hudson took a forwards ball and powered in for the try in the corner. Flyhalf Ben Crossley made the conversion to tie the score at 7-7 going into intermission.
Five minutes into the second half, the Bruins' Zack Bonte broke the stalemate with an eightman play from the scrum where he beat his defenders to score in the corner. Arizona would answer with a penalty kick by Crossley to cut the lead to two points, 12-10. UCLA reacted by scoring back-to-back tries to extend their advantage to 24-10. Bonte scored his second try and then wing Seb Sharpe touched the ball down on the left side after a several phases on the right wing.
Starting in the 59th minute, the Wildcats mounted a comeback that would give them the lead with two minutes to go. Catching the Bears’ napping, flanker Bryce Mantell took a quick tap from scrumhalf Kyle Rogers to dot the ball down on the left side. Crossley would make the conversion and score the next try after breaking the line and racing 30 meters to the endzone.
With two minutes to go, Arizona was threatening with good phase ball at UCLA’s doorstep and after repeated infringements, the referee awarded the Wildcats with a penalty try. Rogers kicked the conversion for the tense 29-25 lead. As precious time ticked away, UCLA grinded its way downfield patiently, and lock Pierre Courpron muscled in for try off a pick-and-go in the left corner. Francis’ strike from the left sideline was good, and UCLA pulled out the slimmest of victories over Arizona, 31-29.
Following the loss to Arizona State last week, Arizona head coach Sean Duffy said, “We made some major changes this week and put some more accountability on the table. These guys came out really focused on upping our line speed, improving our tackling, being better defensively, and doing things to force the other team into mistakes. That was the difference for us.”
“When you get to 79 minutes in and you are up by five, you expect to win. But it wasn’t meant to be, but I’m still really proud of these guys because it’s one thing to lose like we did last week and be very disappointed. It’s another lose to a good team and play very well in it and see the growth in this young group.”