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Arizona Wildcats come up short as UCLA hits the Jack-pot

Ka'Deem Carey ran for 149 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Ka’Deem Carey ran for 149 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

There was the failure on fourth-and-inches from the UCLA 15. Giving up two 66-yard touchdowns, one to a linebacker playing running back. Getting only three points after reaching the Bruins 4.

There was an Arizona fumble into the end zone, recovered for a touchback.

There was a holding penalty on UA’s second-to-last drive that negated a first down and contributed to a punt.

After all that and more — on a late night in which linebacker/running back Myles Jack became national news, on a night when Arizona could barely tackle quarterback Brett Hundley and did plenty to muck things up — the Cats had a chance.

Which ended with a whimper.

Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker threw a fourth-down interception at the UA 23 with 1:57 left, allowing UCLA to take a knee three times and walk out of Arizona Stadium with a 31-26 victory on Saturday night.

“Played poorly. Had a chance at the end,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

“But, you know, that just makes you even sicker. When we watch the film, we’re not going to be very happy.

“You lose by a touchdown, right? So, how many plays are you going to watch on the film and say, ‘That one play would have made the difference?’ For us, that’s going to be the hard part about watching the film.”

The loss was a knife to Arizona’s chances in the Pac-12 South, falling to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the league, two games behind Arizona State. UCLA, ranked 16th, goes to 7-2 and 4-2.

So much was packed into the game, but starting at the end, Arizona took over at its 12 with 2:33 to go.

Denker scrambled for a loss of 3. Incomplete. Incomplete. Interception.

“Didn’t get the first first down,” Denker said.

“That’s what we talk about to get into our rhythm. Couldn’t get into a rhythm. Three bad passes and we lost the football game. That’s what happened.

“You get one opportunity, two-minute drill, fourth quarter, last drive, no timeouts. It’s everything a quarterback can ask for. Obviously, it was too much for me to handle.”

Getting back to the beginning, Arizona took a 3-0 lead on it opening possession, only to see Hundley hit Shaq Evans on a 66-yard streak on UCLA’s first play.

Arizona was climbing the hill all game after that, unable to immediately answer because UCLA stopped Ka’Deem Carey on fourth-and-inches from the 15 on a run up the middle.

Arizona fell behind 24-10 after the first possession of the second half and, again, failed to immediately answer.

Taking a handoff from the UCLA 5, Carey was headed into the end zone. A dive … a low hit .. Carey is tumbling … UCLA knocks the ball loose … Carey, upside down, kicks the ball toward the back of the end zone … Jack recovers.

“They just knocked it out,” Carey said. “That was a good play by the defense.”

And one of several good plays by Jack.

The true freshman had eight tackles, broke up two passes, and played offense — brilliantly — for the first time in his college career. He rushed six times for 120 yards.

After Arizona closed to 24-19 early in the fourth quarter, UCLA faced third-and-1 from its 34. The Bruins went to a three-back backfield, with Hundley in the shotgun, and he handed the ball to Jack, who took the play to the right sideline, out-racing and stiff-arming the Wildcats along the way to the end zone.

More of the same for Arizona. One play short. One tackle shy. What ifs galore.

Here’s another: What if replay officials didn’t overturn an Arizona recovered fumble at the UCLA 40 late in the third quarter?

Who knows?

“They were all big,” Rodriguez said of the myriad of key moments.

“It’s ridiculous. You can’t tackle a quarterback; you give up a short-yardage 66-yard run. You’ve got to tackle better, you’ve got to get off blocks better, you’ve got to block better.”

So, Arizona is 3-0 in the league against Utah, Colorado and Cal — teams with a combined 1-18 record in the Pac-12. The Wildcats are 0-3 against the bigger boys in the conference, including close calls against both Los Angeles schools.

Rodriguez is hoping to build margin of error into the program in the next year or two. For now, errors equal narrow losses against the better teams in the league.

“The effort was good,” he said. “But effort is not good enough. There has to be execution.”

RELATED: Arizona-UCLA game blog

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