Jim Mora was nearly in tears before the game even began. The UCLA head coach had an unmistakable twinge in his voice, and the right words were hard to come by as he searched for the appropriate terms to describe his team’s mind-set. He discussed it openly, wearing his emotions on his sleeve.
Given the circumstances, it was understood if not expected.
When asked about the task of playing the first game following the tragic death of freshman wide receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car and killed last week, Mora provided little in terms of on-field answers.
The game itself seemed secondary. In fact, it was secondary, but it still needed to be played.
The Bruins got off to a sluggish start, perhaps because of the early morning start but more likely having to do with the weight of the past week. But, a new, inspired Bruins team showed up for the second half and they dominated. UCLA responded to whatever Jim Mora said at halftime with a monster second half, scoring the final 38 points and shutting down a team loaded with offensive weapons for the final 30 minutes.
The Bruins prevailed 41-21—thanks in large part to quarterback Brett Hundley’s superb play, especially late in the game. UCLA conquered the Cornhuskers for the second consecutive season, doing so while operating with heavy hearts.
Hundley’s most memorable moment in this game wasn’t one of his three touchdowns or a handful of his magical scrambles—including one late in the second quarter on third down that eventually led to a score—but instead, it was a simple (but powerful) gesture.
As UCLA took control of the game late in the third quarter, Hundley provided his own tribute.
UCLA's Brett Hundley holds up an "R.I.P. #36" towel in honor of Nick Pasquale, their WR who passed away this week. pic.twitter.com/YyqlxM88pt— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 14, 2013
It wasn't just UCLA celebrating the life of Pasquale. The Cornhuskers wore a decal of Pasquale's number on the back of their helmets, a wonderful gesture from the home team. Both teams also came together for a prayer following the game, proving that the game itself served as just a small portion of what the day was about.
After the game, both Mora and Hundley celebrated the win by dedicating it to Pasquale. Their postgame interviews were touching, genuine, emotional and real, and the video says it all.
“We got one for Nick.”
It wasn’t an easy week for anyone involved with the program, and it certainly took its toll on the team.
Jim Mora abruptly walked out of a press conference early in the week after a reporter was reportedly talking on his phone in the back of the room while Mora discussed the tragic event.
His emotion was without question understood.
The team came together, however, and from a football standpoint, the win is enormous and telling. The defense played a magnificent second half, and Brett Hundley is emerging as one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks. UCLA is a factor in the Pac-12, and Mora’s influence in just over a season as the head coach has been remarkable.
UCLA will play New Mexico State next week, and then conference play will really pick up. The Bruins have been given the unfortunate challenges of playing Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks, both of which will be played on the road.
There will be time to talk about these games, forever. For now, from an emotional standpoint, Saturday was incredibly uplifting. We can’t begin to put ourselves in the position of the family, the players or anyone involved with the program, but the importance of this win was on display. This was more than just an extra tally in the win column.
They got one for Nick.