Is there anything more gut-wrenching than the close-up of a dejected kicker who just missed the game winning field goal?
The 51-yard attempt would have been a career-long for the freshman, who has just one made field goal longer than 35 yards this season.
The Bruins had fourth-and-five with no timeouts, but rather than taking a shot at the first down, UCLA opted to try for the field goal that would send the Pac-12 Championship Game into overtime.
It was a tough situation for the freshman Fairbairn, who was inconsistent early in the season but hadn’t missed a kick since mid-October. Last week, in the Bruins’ first game against Stanford, Fairbairn hit a 48-yard field goal, his season long.
In last week’s game, though, UCLA was down, 21-7, in the first half. The pressure had to be more intense with under a minute left in the conference championship game.
It was the kind of situation that makes or breaks kickers – make the kick and you’re a hero; miss it and everyone blames you for the team’s loss (even thought it probably took a team effort to get to that point).
It really wasn’t his fault; it was a long shot at best, and it didn’t help that Fairbairn was dealing with wet field conditions and a poor snap.
The field had been covered by a tarp prior to the game, but rain continued to fall, making for a slippery kicking surface. The snap was low, and while the holder did an admirable job of placing the ball where Fairbairn was expecting it, it was another distraction the freshman kicker certainly didn’t need.
Going for it on fourth-and-five would’ve been a risky call, too, but make it and at the very least, the field goal distance is a little more reasonable. Kicking a 51-yarder is rarely a safe bet, and given the field conditions and Fairbairn’s lack of experience from longer distances, or in big-game situations, the attempt was no more of a sure thing than trying another play to extend the drive.
Nevertheless, Coach Jim Mora put the tie and the possibility of overtime on the foot of his freshman kicker and watched they sailed wide left towards the ecstatic Stanford crowd.