LINCOLN, Neb. -- As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley grabbed the towel that had been hanging near his hip during the game and raised it above his head before placing it over his heart.
He had written "R.I.P #36" on it before the game in honor of UCLA wide receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car and killed while walking along a street near his home in San Clemente, Calif., last week.
Hundley wanted everyone to know UCLA's 41-21 win over Nebraska, in which the Bruins outscored the Cornhuskers 38-0 in the final 31 minutes, was dedicated to Pasquale.
"There was so much emotion in this game," Hundley said, still clinging to the game ball nearly an hour after the game. "I felt like we needed to get this win for him and we had to honor him. We showed that with our play. We realized this game is bigger than just us now. Everybody is always so worried about themselves, but this game is so much bigger and we understand that now."
It had been an unimaginably difficult week for UCLA players as they tried to cope with the loss of Pasquale, a popular walk-on player who made an impact on every player and coach on the team. He was UCLA's version of "Rudy," with a heart and story to match.
Pasquale didn't look like a football player. He was a 5-foot-7, 170-pound wide receiver who never saw the field last season as a member of the scout team. He grew up a UCLA fan, always dreamed of playing for the school and acted like it every time he walked onto the practice field. It was a dream that wasn't lost on his teammates at the end of their 58-20 win over Nevada two weeks ago.
While other players were celebrating late in the fourth quarter on Aug. 31, Jordan Payton and other receivers were reminding wide receivers coach Eric Yarber to put Pasquale in. "Hey, we got to get Pac-Man in," they said. "Don't forget about Pac-Man. Get Pac-Man in."
While it would make sense for a tragedy like this to put football in perspective, in the case of Pasquale, it can also show how much the sport can help a grieving family heal.
Before UCLA flew to Nebraska on Friday, Pasquale's mother and father, Mel and Laurie, and his older brother, A.J., drove up to UCLA from San Clemente and spoke to the team.
"It was emotional," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "It was something that gave them hopefully some joy in a really difficult time in their lives, to see 120 kids in that room that love their son. It was tough."
The importance of the game began to sink in as Pasquale's father addressed the team and told them how much being a UCLA Bruin meant to his son and family. They were no longer playing for themselves; they were playing for their fallen teammate.
"His dad is a very strong man, and he told us to play for Nick," UCLA cornerback Anthony Jefferson said. "He told us to honor his son and the way he played football. He was a tough guy. He never quit and never asked any questions. This was a huge win to honor him and his family."
It was always Pasquale's dream to one day run onto the football field and play for UCLA.
Two weeks ago, his dream became a reality.
On Saturday, one week after Pasquale's death, every player on the UCLA and Nebraska football teams ran onto the field for him and carried on his dream.
Pasquale's No. 36 adorned the front of UCLA's jerseys and the back of Nebraska's helmets. As Memorial Stadium observed a moment of silence for Pasquale before the game, Nebraska's student section held up a banner reading, "Two Schools. One Team."
Mixed in the sea of red and black was a lone blue and gold shirt worn by Dylan Fisher, a 21-year-old senior at Nebraska. The back of Fisher's shirt read, "Pasquale 36" with "R.I.P. 93-13" on the bottom.
Fisher came to the game to observe the moment of silence before leaving to fly home to San Clemente, where he will be at the memorial service of his longtime friend Sunday. Fisher and Pasquale grew up in the same neighborhood and had made plans to get together before and after Saturday's game. They would have shared memories of spring breaks in Palm Springs and house parties in Orange County. Fisher wasn't supposed to be driving to the airport Saturday, listening to the game on the radio as he prepared to board a plane to attend his friend's memorial service.
"It's a real big eye-opener," Fisher said. "Life can be taken from you in a moment. The thing about Nick is he lived it up to the fullest as much as he could. He always left his heart out there on the field no matter what he was doing."
The entire UCLA football team will also be at the memorial service, boarding buses from campus Sunday morning to honor Pasquale and his family later that afternoon.
"It's going to be emotional and touching," Jefferson said. "But it's going to be great for the family to know that we're all his brothers and we're all going to be there to support him and them."
Hundley and his teammates wanted so badly to play well for Pasquale and his family that they went away from playing with the usual energy that makes them such a special team. They played nervous, and Nebraska took advantage, jumping out to a 21-3 lead with just over a minute left before halftime.
"We were just tight," Mora said. "We were tight. Everyone was intent on being the guy that made the play. Nobody wanted to make a mistake, and you can't play football that way. Our team loves to play the game. We have a passion for that, and we were squelching it. We were letting our emotions get the best of us."
Mora told Hundley to breathe and relax with about two minutes left in the second quarter, and UCLA never looked back. UCLA outscored Nebraska 38-0 the rest of the way as Hundley completed 16 of 24 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 61 more yards in the game. It was a Heisman-like performance on the road for the redshirt sophomore quarterback who will have road games at Stanford, Oregon and USC later this season to further make his case.
"These are the games that you remember forever," Hundley said. "When you want to leave legacies, this is how it starts. To be down 21-3 at Lincoln, Neb., in front of 91,000 people and to come back and win 41-21 is an epic thing. This is one we'll always remember."
Players and coaches were still trying to hold back tears as they talked about Pasquale after the game. Practices were closed leading up to Saturday's game as players and coaches mourned his loss. They all tapped two signs taped outside their practice field this week. One read, "We love you Nick. Rest in peace our angel." The second read, "Play for each other, play for your brother."
"You can't believe how tough it was on them," Mora said. "You just can't. He had such an influence on our team for a little guy that only played one snap here at UCLA. Those guys loved him. They respected the heck out of him."
Before he died, Pasquale told his father, "Dad, I think the coaches are finally starting to notice me."
It was a story Pasquale's father relayed to Mora when the coach drove down to see Pasquale's family Sunday after they learned the news of his death.
"I told him we didn't start noticing your son," Mora said. "We've been noticing him from the day he walked on to this team. We're going to miss him."