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UCLA football: Craft makes most of second chance

September 19, 2009 | 11:47 pm

This wasn’t redemption for Kevin Craft, this was satisfaction.

Craft seemed destined to sit out his final college season after redshirt freshman Kevin Prince won the starting job. But when Prince went down with a broken jaw last week, Craft was back, helping the Bruins to a 23-9 victory over Kansas State at the Rose Bowl.

“I’m so pleased for Kevin Craft,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “He had taken a lot of abuse, none of it intended to be malicious, but when you don’t do as well as you hope at a position that is as much a focal point as quarterback, it’s a tough thing to swallow.”

Craft completed 13 of 24 passes for 186 yards. He had one pass intercepted, but also had a second touchdown pass nullified by a penalty. He said afterward he wasn’t concerned whether he’d get another chance this season.

“You know, I don’t really have that mind-set,” Craft said. “I just kind of felt that I would get a chance to get back out there. I don’t ever want to see a kid go down like Kev did. I know his spirits are still high. But it was also fun to get out there too.”

Craft’s return was hardly being welcomed by some fans. Comments on UCLA fan websites through the week ranged from give-him-a-chance posts to online primal screams.

Craft’s performance swung wildly as well.

He ran a safe-and-sane offensive game plan in the first half, completing six of 12 passes for 76 yards. That included directing a 66-yard touchdown drive that ended with Johnathan Franklin’s three-yard touchdown run. Craft, faced with a third-and-10 play, looked poised in completing a 16-yard pass to Nelson Rosario to extend that drive.

But it was the second half where Bruins’ fans had their worst fears confirmed, then their greatest hopes realized.

Craft was his 2008 self in the third quarter, firing wildly and looking nonplused. That included a deep pass where he either threw to the wrong spot or wide receiver Terrence Austin ran the wrong pattern. Either way, it was Craft who was booed by fans.

But with the game in doubt in the fourth quarter, Craft found Austin along down the left sideline, and laid in a perfect pass for a 51-yard touchdown that clinched the victory with 6 minutes 18 seconds left in the game.

Craft’s longest pass covered 43 yards last season. It was also the Bruins' longest scoring pass in 21 games, dating back to Ben Olson’s 69-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Breazell against Oregon State in 2007.

Asked whether he felt this game was one of redemption for Craft, Neuheisel said, “I do; he won’t admit that. If you ask him, he’ll say he just played a game. One thing about Kevin Craft is that he never lost confidence in himself. He knew he could do it.”

Other postgame notes:

-- Neuheisel was concerned about the number of penalties, as the Bruins had eight for 80 yards. Some wiped out big plays, including a 19-yard touchdown pass from Craft to Ryan Moya.

“We have to fix that,” Neuheisel said, though he said it came from “an urgency to keep things going. But we have to fix it. This is the perfect time to do that with a bye week. We’re lucky to get to do that without having a loss on the ledger.”

-- Alterraun Verner intercepted two passes, giving him 11 for his career.

-- Kicker Kai Forbath had three field goals, giving him 53 in his career, fourth most in UCLA history.

-- Chris Foster

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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