Dorian Thompson-Robinson assessed his aching body from the ground after taking another punishing hit that drove him into the grass. It was only moments after the UCLA quarterback had been dragged down out of bounds, an injury finally forcing him out of the game, his shoulder telling him he no longer could continue.
Thompson-Robinson would have the final word Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium. Ignoring the pain that knocked him out of the game for one play, Thompson-Robinson returned to throw one more pass and receive one more pummeling.
One week after having been undone by a gutsy quarterback’s performance, the Bruins prevailed thanks to one of their own.
Thompson-Robinson’s final pass resulted in a five-yard touchdown to receiver Kyle Philips in the front corner of the end zone with 2 minutes 35 seconds left, sealing the No. 24 Bruins’ 35-24 victory over Stanford in their Pac-12 Conference opener.
It was the coda to a night in which Thompson-Robinson willed his team to victory by throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more.
“The one thing that I don’t think gets mentioned enough with Dorian is how tough he is,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, “and he’s been tough from the get-go.”
As Philips spiked the ball following his touchdown and leaped to bump bodies with teammate Chase Cota, Thompson-Robinson engaged in a far more muted celebration.
The quarterback rose unsteadily to his feet with the help of his offensive linemen before grabbing his right arm and grimacing. He took a pat on the rear from guard Atonio Mafi as he jogged toward a sideline that was rejoicing in his resolve.
Philips provided some comforting words after scoring two touchdowns to help the Bruins (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) rebuff Stanford’s comeback that had tied the score at 21 early in the fourth quarter.
“I just told him that I love him, just so proud of him to fight through that injury,” Philips said, “really put the team first even though he was going through a whole lot.”
Thompson-Robinson did not speak with reporters after the game, with Philips revealing that the quarterback was dealing with a shoulder injury. Thompson-Robinson finished 18 of 29 for 251 yards.
After a furious rally involving two third-quarter touchdowns, Stanford (2-2, 1-1) held the tie for all of 10 seconds. One play after Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee connected with wide receiver Bryce Farrell for a 52-yard touchdown, Thompson-Robinson and Philips generated an equally emphatic answer.
Philips caught a pass around Stanford’s 46-yard line and sprinted into the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown that gave UCLA a 28-21 advantage. It was the third huge play of the game for Philips, whose 59-yard punt return in the first quarter set up the Bruins’ first touchdown on Thompson-Robinson’s one-yard run.
“They had big personnel on the field and we knew we wanted to try to get Kyle down the seam, they had a big outside linebacker on him,” Kelly said of the long touchdown pass.
Stanford eventually made it 28-24 thanks to a 48-yard field goal with nine minutes left that generated some boos after Cardinal coach David Shaw refused to go for it on fourth and two.
The Bruins chewed precious minutes off the clock thanks to the running combination of Zach Charbonnet (118 yards) and Brittain Brown (66) before reaching the Stanford 10. That’s when Thompson-Robinson took off running and stayed down out of bounds after going for three yards.
Backup Ethan Garbers came in for one play and ran the ball for two yards, setting up third and goal from the five. Thompson-Robinson came back onto the field. He fired the ball into the corner of the end zone.
That Stanford was in position to generate any late drama was surprising given the first half.
The Cardinal won the coin toss and elected to receive in something of a rarity in college football.
It was a bold move. It was also foolish given what was about to unfold.
Stanford didn’t generate a first down until midway through the second quarter, on its sixth drive.
McKee finally got in a rhythm, finding Brycen Tremayne for a 19-yard touchdown pass and drawing the Cardinal into a tie with two more touchdown passes in the third quarter.
It wasn’t enough given his counterpart’s grittiness.
It was nothing new considering Thompson-Robinson had persevered through several big hits in his first career start, against Oklahoma in 2018.
“I just remember seeing his mom after the game and saying, ‘You have a tough son, right there,’” Kelly said. “And it’s an underrated quality for a quarterback to be a tough guy who will stand in there and play, and I think that was on display today. It’s something that we’ve known for four years now but I think he really showed that tonight and I was really proud.”
As UCLA ran out the clock, Thompson-Robinson was expressionless as he handed the ball to the referee after the final snap.
Only as he walked off and a fan yelled “DTR!” did he show emotion. He pointed to the stands, a smile creeping across his face.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.