Just like all season, Brad Melsby didn't figure into Cade McNown's late plans with a game on the line.
McNown couldn't have missed Melsby this time, spotting the little-used receiver open for a 61-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left, capping a wild fourth quarter Saturday night and helping No. 3 UCLA stay in the chase for the national championship by holding off Oregon State 41-34.
Oregon State tied it 34-34 with 31 seconds left on a 28-yard field goal by Jose Cortez. But Cortez's kickoff went out of bounds at UCLA's 41, giving McNown room to work.
Melsby, who had just seven catches for 69 yards all season, wasn't the intended receiver. Danny Farmer, who caught two of McNown's touchdown passes, was supposed to run an underneath route so the Bruins could get close enough for Chris Sailer to make the winning kick.
When defensive back Andrae Holland broke to cover Farmer, Melsby was left to streak down the sidelines for the winning score that helped the Bruins (8-0 overall, 6-0 Pac-10) extend their NCAA-best winning streak to 18 games.
"I looked for Danny, but he was kind of crowded," McNown said. "A couple of guys jumped on him and Melsby just popped open. I think they just miscommunicated on who was coming up out of the middle."
Oregon State (4-6, 1-6) had one last chance, but Jonathan Smith's long pass was intercepted by Larry Atkins with four seconds left, ending one of the best games in the adventurous Pac-10 this season.
"I bet this was a fun game to watch," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I wish I could have enjoyed it more."
"It's hard on 18-, 19, 20-year-old kids, and it's hard on a 52-year-old man," UCLA coach Bob Toledo said. "I'm extremely proud of our guys. They know how to win. They never give up, they never quit. They just keep battling."
The Beavers extended a more dubious college record of their own, posting their 28th consecutive losing season.
"I can't really explain it," said Holland of the winning TD. "I blew the coverage. I was supposed to be deep, and I wasn't."
With No. 1 Ohio State's 28-24 loss to Michigan State, UCLA could move up from No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series computer rankings, which determine which teams will play for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl. The Bruins dropped from No. 1 in the BCS rankings after a narrow 28-24 victory over Stanford last week.
UCLA, struggling throughout against Oregon State's aggressive defense, took a 31-24 lead on McNown's 43-yard pass to Farmer with 10 minutes to play.
On third-and-3 from Oregon State's 34, Smith hit Greg Ainsworth on a dead run for 53 yards to the UCLA 3. Two plays later, Jason Dandridge scored his third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run, tying it 31-31 with 3:42 left. Dandridge finished with 130 yards on 16 carries and also had TD runs of 38 and 33 yards.
Sailer kicked a 30-yard field goal to put UCLA ahead 34-31 with 1:17 to play.
Tim Alexander, who earlier had kickoff returns of 55 and 46 yards, brought this one back 44 yards. He was hit out of bounds, and the penalty moved the Beavers to the UCLA 45. Smith passed to Ainsworth for gains of 15 and 13 yards, setting up Cortez's field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the teams combined for 382 of their 1,014 yards in the fourth quarter, including two touchdowns and two field goals in the last 7:09.
Ainsworth had eight catches for 142 yards, while James Battle had five catches for 104 yards. Alexander caught a career-high 10 passes for 77 yards.
Oregon State led 24-17 with 5:13 left in the third quarter when Dandridge went left and dashed 33 yards for a touchdown.
UCLA tied it at 24-24 on a wild 81-yard drive. UCLA picked up 15 yards on a pass-interference penalty on third-and-6 at its 22. On the next play, McNown scrambled for a 30-yard gain, with a 5-yard face-mask penalty tacked on. At the Beavers' 26, McNown handed off to Lewis, who threw to McNown for a 22-yard gain to the 4. Three plays later, McNown dropped a short pass to Farmer, who shook off Holland at the 2 and ran in for a 7-yard TD.
Farmer was wide open again on his next touchdown, and strolled into the end zone after getting past cornerback Armon Hatcher to put the Bruins ahead 31-24.
UCLA took a 10-0 second-quarter lead on a 21-yard field goal by Sailer, who entered the game having made just 3-of-10 all season, and a 7-yard TD run by DeShaun Foster.
Dandridge made it 10-7 when he went up the middle nearly untouched for a 38-yard score. After McNown's 28-yard TD pass to Ryan Neufeld, Cortez kicked a 41-yarder to make it 7-10 UCLA at halftime.
Cortez, who missed a 62-yard attempt to end the first half, has 16 field goals this season, breaking the school record of 14 set by Troy Bussanich in 1989.
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