Pittsburgh pounces back at the 2022 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game


Gianluca Cuevas

Pitt senior quarterback Nick Patti calls audible against the UCLA defense at the 2022 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Dec. 30, 2022.

Katrina Villarreal, Staff Reporter

The Sun Bowl Stadium hosted No. 18 University of California-Los Angeles Bruins (9-4, 6-3 Pacific-12 Conference) and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers (9-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) for the 89th annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game Friday, Dec. 30. Pittsburgh defeated UCLA 37-35 thanks to three key turnovers in the game.  

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  • The Pitt Panthers rally onto the field pregame.

  • Pitt cheerleader looks onto field.

  • UCLA senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and sophomore wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala talk on the UCLA sideline.

  • UCLA senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles against the Pitt defense.

  • UCLA junior wide receiver Kam Brown reaches for ball against the Pitt secondary.

  • UCLA Cheer Team performs alongside the UCLA Bruin Marching Band.

  • UCLA senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw 16 of 24 for 271 yards before being sidelined for throwing three interceptions.

  • Pitt sophomore kicker Ben Sauls completed a record five field goals including a 47-yard game winner.

  • UCLA senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and senior offensive lineman Sam Marrazzo plead with officials over controversial call.

  • UCLA Bruin Marching Band cheers on their team.

  • Pitt defeats UCLA 37-35 at the 2022 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Dec. 30, 2022, for its first victory in El Paso since 1989.

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Pittsburgh received the ball first after UCLA deferred. Pittsburgh’s possession began with a delay of game penalty and after a pass for a loss of a yard, senior quarterback Nick Patti ran for 41 yards. Pittsburgh was able to move the ball downfield to take the lead with a field goal. UCLA answered with a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Logan Loya to put the Bruins up 7-3. Pittsburgh was able to bring the deficit down to one point at the end of the first quarter after a 49-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Ben Sauls. The score was 7-6. 

At the second quarter, UCLA was able to score first after multiple penalties on Pittsburgh with a quarterback run by senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson. On UCLA’s next possession, Thompson-Robinson’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Pittsburgh’s senior linebacker Tylar Wiltz. Pittsburgh senior quarterback Nick Patti completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Bub Means with 3:49 left in the second quarter. After a successful two-point conversion, Pittsburgh tied the game 14-14.  

UCLA regained the lead with a 28-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. At the half, the score was 28-14.  

UCLA started the third quarter with the ball, but it was once again tipped and intercepted by freshman defensive back Javon McIntyre. In Pittsburgh’s next possession the ball was intercepted by UCLA freshman defensive back Jaylin Davies for a 52-yard pick-six. That brought the score to 28-14 with 8:45 left in the third quarter. Pittsburgh answered with a touchdown of its through sophomore running back Rodney Hammond Jr. At the end of the third quarter, the score was 28-21. 

In UCLA’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Thompson-Robinson’s pass was intercepted by junior linebacker Bangally Kamara; that was Thompson-Robinson’s third interception of the game. Pittsburgh tied the game once again with a touchdown by Hammond Jr., 28-28. Pittsburgh took the lead after two successful field goals by Sauls. The score was 34-28 with 4:24 left in the game.  

It came down to the wire in the final seconds of the fourth. UCLA put in sophomore quarterback Ethan Garbers in place of Thompson-Robinson after the third turnover. UCLA took the lead (35-34) with 0:34 left after an eight-yard rushing touchdown by freshman running back T.J. Harden. 

Pittsburgh had the ball in the final seconds of the game and no timeouts, Patti completed two passes to move the ball downfield and he rushed for 11 yards. With 0:04 left in the game, Sauls made a 47-yard field goal to give the Panthers the lead. UCLA had the ball for one last play, but it was intercepted by junior defensive back M.J. Devonshire on a hail mary play. 

The final score was 37-35.  

“No different than an extra point,” said Sauls on his game-winning field goal. “At the end of the day, it’s your job and I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years of my life and every little piece of adversity I’ve had to go through has led me to this moment. I’m extremely blessed to have my teammates put me in that position. Shoutout to my holder Cam Guess and my snapper Byron Floyd because they’re perfect and I wouldn’t be here without them.” 

Two Pittsburgh players received honors after the game, Hammond Jr. won most valuable player and Sauls won most valuable special teams player.  

“It’s surprising to me,” said Sauls on his MVP award. “At the end of the day, you have a job and once you identify your job and execute your job, I mean what more can you ask for.” 

Sauls was 5/5 on field goals made, setting an all-time Sun Bowl record. 

All statistics are provided by UCLA Athletics and Pitt Athletics. 

Katrina Villarreal is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]