For the last two years, Cal State Fullerton's football team has made the long, slow climb up the ladder of respectability. Saturday, at Santa Ana Stadium, the Titans slipped to the depths of frustration in just three hours.
Fullerton had not lost a home opener in five years under Coach Gene Murphy, but Nevada Reno spoiled this one. The Wolf Pack amassed 438 yards of total offense en route to a 30-3 nonconference rout in front of a crowd of 6,317 that had little to cheer about.
The two-time defending Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. champions are looking more like the defense less champions these days.
The Fullerton running game, which had 235 yards in the season-opening loss at Montana, totaled 14 yards Saturday. Fullerton (0-2) managed just 168 yards passing.
Starting quarterback Kevin Jan completed 13 of 16 passes with one interception for 90 yards, but he was unable to get the ball downfield to the wide receivers. Backup Whit Brown had some moments in the second half, completing 6 of 14 with two interceptions for 78 yards, but his season came to an abrupt halt in the fourth quarter when Nevada Reno's Elston Ridgle hit him just as he was delivering a pass. Brown suffered severe ligament damage to his left knee, according to Murphy.
"They whupped us on both sides of the football," Murphy said. "When things go bad the blame tends to go to the trigger man (quarterback), but we were beaten by a better team today.
"And I emphasize the today, because were going to get better down the road."
It's beginning to look like a long and winding road, though.
Fullerton began winning consistently the last two seasons with an explosive offense led by quarterback Damon Allen, but defense remained the backbone of Titan football. Even in the lean years, Fullerton lost regularly by baseball-type scores.
But the Titan defense has eroded because of its inexperienced linebackers and secondary.
Wolf Pack quarterback Eric Beavers, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns, remembers a different Fullerton defense--one that held Nevada Reno to a pair of touchdowns in a 36-14 Titan win last season.
"I was really surprised how well we could move the ball on the ground against them," Beavers said. "Their defense isn't as good as it was last year. Our offensive line was controling the line of scrimmage and opening up big holes."
Reno got on the board first when Beavers hit Bryan Calder with a 19-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter after orchestrating a 78-yard, 11-play drive. Calder, who had six receptions for 97 yards, also caught a nine-yard touchdown pass for the Wolf Pack's final score.
Marty Zendejas, another member of the famous kicking Zendejas family, kicked a 50-yard field goal four minutes later and Reno was ahead, 10-0.
The Wolf Pack extended the lead to 23-0 after a four-yard touchdown pass from Beavers to Lucius Floyd (Zendejas' extra point attempt was blocked by Mark Collins) and a 54-yard touchdown run by Charvez Foger, who finished with 145 yards in 18 carries.
Fullerton's Len Strandley kicked a 53-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to avert the shutout.