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K.J. Costello fires 5 TD passes and Stanford holds off UCLA 49-42

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 11/25/2018 By Tom FitzGerald

PASADENA — Formerly the team of “smash-mouth football,” Stanford needed all the points its passing attack could muster to beat UCLA on Saturday.

“I learned a lot this year,” run-oriented head coach David Shaw said. “One thing is apparently my comfort level doesn’t matter. I haven’t been comfortable all year. We’ve been an enigma, but the one thing that’s been constant is big plays in the passing game.”

Quarterback K.J. Costello threw for 344 yards and five touchdowns — the second most in a game in school history — as the Cardinal held off the Bruins 49-42 for their 11th straight win in the series.

Only John Elway has thrown more touchdown passes in a game for Stanford; he had six against Oregon State in 1980. Several others have thrown five, most recently Kevin Hogan in the 2013 Big Game.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, one of the nation’s leaders in touchdown catches, grabbed three passes for scores. He tied James Lofton’s 41-year-old school record with his 14th TD catch of the season.

Arcega-Whiteside sat out the Oregon State game two weeks earlier with an ankle injury, then got another week off with the postponement of the Cal game until next week.

“I had so much energy going into this game, stored up from the last two weeks,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It was almost like playing the first game of the year all over again.”

After 91 points and nearly 1,000 yards of combined total offense, the game went down to a fourth-down incompletion by UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight at the Stanford 43 with 30 seconds left.

The Bruins had moved into Stanford territory on a 19-yard completion to tight end Caleb Wilson. He lost the ball at the end of the play and Stanford recovered, but a replay review found that cornerback Alijah Holder was guilty of targeting, negating the fumble.

Even if targeting occurs at the same time the ball comes out and before the recovery, Shaw said, “it goes back to the offense.” He said it was the right call. “It’s a call they have to make. Our player had his head down.”

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 24: K.J. Costello #3 of the Stanford Cardinal looks to pass the ball during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 24, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) © Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 24: K.J. Costello #3 of the Stanford Cardinal looks to pass the ball during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 24, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

UCLA took its only lead since the opening minutes at 42-41 on a 1-yard run by Speight with 9:27 left. A little over a minute later, Stanford scored on Costello’s 52-yard pass to redshirt freshman Osiris St. Brown, the first touchdown of his career.

Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (19) makes a touchdown catch over UCLA defensive back Colin Samuel (10) and defensive back Adarius Pickett (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (19) makes a touchdown catch over UCLA defensive back Colin Samuel (10) and defensive back Adarius Pickett (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Shaw said that when St. Brown’s brother, Amon-Ra, scored on a long touchdown pass for USC a week earlier against UCLA, the coach texted Osiris: “We’re going to score (against the Bruins) on the same play.” Shaw said the receiver responded, in essence: “Yeah, coach, let’s get it.”

Stanford (7-4, 5-3) gave up numerous big plays, including a 66-yard pass to Wilson on UCLA’s next-to-last possession. Wilson finished with 184 yards on nine catches, as Speight went 29-for-47 for 466 yards and a touchdown.

“They came out swinging,” Cardinal inside linebacker Sean Barton said. “They gave us all we could handle. It was a lot of heart; we stood up when it mattered most.”

Costello threw an interception to Adarius Pickett on Stanford’s third offensive play. Undaunted, Costello threw touchdown passes of 19, 23 and 2 yards to Arcega-Whiteside and 37 yards to Trent Irwin before the pivotal pass to St. Brown.

“I thought we were going to go up by a lot,” Irwin said, “and then they’d have an explosive play and score off of it.”

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Theo Howard #14 of the UCLA Bruins is tackled by the neck on a short pass play by Kendall Williamson #29 of the Stanford Cardinal during the first half of a game at the Rose Bowl on November 24, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX *** © Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Theo Howard #14 of the UCLA Bruins is tackled by the neck on a short pass play by Kendall Williamson #29 of the Stanford Cardinal during the first half of a game at the Rose Bowl on November 24, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

On Irwin’s touchdown catch, Arcega-Whiteside thought the ball was coming to him. “I ran for it,” he said. “The next thing I know, I’m on the ground, and the ref is giving the touchdown signal.” He said he needed to learn from the official what happened.

The pass was indeed intended for Irwin, Costello said.

He credited the much-criticized offensive line for a no-sack performance. “That was the cleanest game I’ve played all year,” he said.

In a strange sequence, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo intercepted a pass at his own 3-yard line in the third quarter, and it turned out to be an unfortunate play for the Cardinal. Bryce Love was immediately dropped for a safety by Martin Andrus Jr., and Darnay Holmes returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.

Love rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries, one a 2-yard touchdown run. A week after burning USC for 289 yards, UCLA’s Joshua Kelley had 55 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

The Bruins, in their first year under former 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, finished 3-9 overall and 3-6 in the Pac-12, their worst season since 1971.

Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tfitzgerald@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @tomgfitzgerald

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