There’s a list of quarterback prospects to watch ahead of each and every college football season—some of them reach the expectations while others fall short. But there are also the under-the-radar passers who hardly anyone was looking at that reveal themselves in a big way.
Fresno State signal-caller Jake Haener is one of those guys.
Haener made a bold statement as he guided his Bulldogs to a 40-37 upset win on the road over the UCLA Bruins, moving his team into the top-25 rankings (No. 22). He completed 39-of-53 passes for 455 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while distributing the ball to nine different passing targets.
Outside of the amount of poise and accuracy Haener showed—both important qualities to be admired—perhaps the greatest thing about his performance was the grit he showed, toughing it out through a right hip injury to deliver a 13-yard game-winning strike to wide receiver Jalen Cropper in the final 14 seconds the game.
Quarterback wins may not be a stat, but the act of a quarterback leading his team to victory in a way like this, especially over an opponent like UCLA while coming into the game as an underdog, is the perfect showcase of both tangibles and intangibles. Tangibly speaking, it’s the way he was able to do what was needed to drive down the field and put the necessary amount of points up to win the game. In regards to intangibles, it’s his composure in a difficult situation while dealing with injury, confidence, and ability to rally to finish the job.
“I have never been in that situation before, with that pain while trying to throw,” Haener said after the game. “I literally felt like I could barely throw the ball at that point, so that kind of sucked. That was really the first time that I've had to do that in that situation.”
“I couldn't really rotate. I was just trying to keep my balance so I could use whatever I had to get the ball out there and try to make something happen with whatever time we had left. You've just got to find a way at those points, and we made it happen.”
The comeback win wasn’t something that anyone expected and it wasn’t easy to put together as Haener tossed two touchdowns in three minutes. The transfer has seen the benefits of his decision to come to Fresno, as he has completed 68.1% of his passes, throwing for 3,485 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions since he’s seen a change of scenery. This season, he’s continued to rise while taking care of the football, completing 73.6% of his passes for 1,464 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception.
Haener wasn’t a prospect many people talked about at all before this season started, but he’s demanded respect and has earned the right to be on the watch list.