Jim Mora was ready to try a Hail Mary.
With just three seconds left in the first half against No. 20 Cal on Thursday, UCLA had backed itself up five yards with a false start. The 55-yard field goal that Ka’imi Fairbairn just hit? It didn’t count.
So faced with trying an incredible 60-yard attempt, the fourth-year head coach figured he had a better chance at airing out a 42-yard pass. Backup quarterback and holder Jerry Neuheisel disagreed.
“Jerry said, ‘No, he’s got it. He’s got it. Just kick it again,'” Mora said. “I asked him at halftime, ‘How’d you know?’ He said, ‘I heard the boom of the ball on the 55-yarder. I knew he’d strike it.'”
Indeed. The senior booted the ball through the uprights from 60 yards away, sending it past the band and nearly into the stands. It easily broke the school record of 56 yards, set in 1997 by Chris Sailer.
— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) October 23, 2015
Sailer is now best known as the preeminent expert in special teams recruiting, running a camp that helps develop kickers and punters hoping to earn scholarships. Fairbairn was one such pupil, traveling to Las Vegas to learn back in 2011.
“He was here tonight,” Fairbairn said after the Bruins’ 40-24 win. “He actually texted me before the game. I think he might be a little mad. I’ll give him a call and say sorry.”
The 60-yarder gave UCLA a 16-point lead heading into the break, and marked the longest field goal ever in a game between Pac-12 opponents. It was the longest in any FBS game since 2012. He had tried and made three more attempts before that, putting the Bruins on the scoreboard with a 44-yarder nearly 11 minutes into the game, and connecting from 24 and 20 yards in the second quarter.
He is now 13 of 14 on the season, his 92.9 percent success rate placing him seventh in the country. The six kickers ahead of him are perfect on their combined 51 attempts, but only two of them — Duke’s Ross Martin and SMU’s Chad Hedlund — have tried one from farther than 45 yards. Fairbairn’s lone miss this season came from 50 yards.
The turnaround is remarkable considering Fairbairn’s first three years as a Bruin. Consistent from close range, the Hawaiian native nevertheless struggled from long distances, hitting just 11 of 22 tries from at least 40 yards out heading into 2015. He also fell short in several high-profile instances: a 50-yard try in last year’s 30-28 loss to Utah; failed 39- and 37-yarders in a a 38-33 loss to Arizona State in 2013; a 52-yard miss in a 27-24 loss to Stanford in the 2012 Pac-12 Championship.
Now, Fairbairn has scored 373 career points, just 17 shy of the record John Lee set at UCLA from 1982-85.