24 - 27 Final - 2OT
  for this game

Craft conjures up second-half magic as UCLA stuns Tennessee

Sep 2, 2008 - 6:01 AM PASADENA, California (Ticker) -- As a former quarterback, Rick Neuheisel could relate to Kevin Craft's bad first half. He decided to stick with the third-stringer and it paid off handsomely.

Craft shook off a terrible first-half performance and Kai Forbath kicked a 42-yard field goal to help UCLA stun No. 18 Tennessee, 27-24, in overtime on Monday in the season opener for both teams.

Craft, who threw four interceptions in the first half, completed 18-of-25 passes for 193 yards and a TD in the second half. The junior college transfer, who was forced to start due to injuries to Patrick Cowan (torn ACL) and Ben Olson (broken foot), could not have gotten off to a worse start.

The last of Craft's four interceptions was returned 61 yards by Nevin McKenzie, which gave Tennessee a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.

"I told him that I threw four interceptions when I started out, too," said Neuheisel, a former UCLA star and MVP of the 1984 Rose Bowl.

"And Terry Donahue waited until the third game to pull me. So I was going to be patient. He stayed in the present. The kids rallied around him and believed in him. You could see him grow in the second half."

Craft then rewarded his new coach in a huge way, finishing 25-of-43 for 259 yards to help Neuheisel win his debut at his alma mater. Coincidentally, Neuheisel became the first UCLA coach to win his first game since Donahue in 1976. Thanks in large part to his resilient young quarterback.

Craft hit Ryan Moya for a three-yard score with 27 seconds remaining in the regulation to give the Bruins a 24-21 lead. However, Daniel Lincoln tied the game with five seconds left by nailing a 47-yard field goal.

In overtime, Forbath made good on his attempt to give UCLA a 27-24 lead. Lincoln then missed wide left on his 34-yard attempt, giving the Bruins (1-0) the win.

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer deflected blame from his kicker.

"It did not come down to one kick," he said. "You can't put this on Daniel Lincoln."

Instead, he praised Craft.

"The kid is a coach's son," Fulmer said. "A very talented young man. He throws the ball extremely well. He threw four picks in the first half, but it didn't seem to faze him. I don't think it was rocket science. He just executed very well in the second half."

Montario Hardesty ran for 66 yards and a pair of scores for the Volunteers (0-1). Hardesty's second TD run - a 20-yard jaunt - put the Volunteers up, 21-17, with 1:54 left. However, Craft responded by engineering a nine-play, 71-yard drive that was capped by his TD toss to Moya.

"Football for a quarterback is a rhythm thing," Neuheisel said. "When the ball feels good in your hands, you can do anything. He stayed with it."

Craft helped write a storybook ending to Neuheisel's first game as coach at his former stomping grounds. He returned to UCLA this season after former teammate Karl Dorrell was fired following last season's 6-7 campaign.

"I am unbelievably grateful to a lot of people for the opportunity to be here," said Neuheisel, who was fired as head coach of Washington in 2003 for violating NCAA rules by participating in NCAA Tournament office pools.

"A lot of people had to stick their necks out for me to get this chance - mainly (athletic director) Dan Guerrero and Chancellor (Gene) Block. I'm grateful to the players for buying into the culture."

Jonathan Crompton completed 19-of-41 passes for 189 yards and an interception for Tennessee, which lost its second straight season opener.

"We made enough mistakes tonight to lose three, four or five football games," Fulmer said.