PULLMAN, Wash. — Even after UCLA tackle Frank Batchkoff had batted away Mark Rypien's pass on the two-point conversion play that would have given Washington State the lead with less than four minutes to play, the Bruins needed another game-saving defensive play Saturday.
And they got it. With 55 seconds left on the clock, Washington State's Kerry Porter tried to push the ball up the middle on a fourth-and-one play near midfield. UCLA linebacker Tommy Taylor slammed into Porter as the runner made his move--and drove him back.
Even then, nobody on the UCLA side of the field breathed a sigh of relief. Not until quarterback David Norrie had worked the final 51 seconds off the clock by falling on the ball a couple of times.
It was that kind of struggle.
Despite the chill and the threatening skies, the 32,302 fans at Martin Stadium stayed in their seats to the bitter end to see whether UCLA would, indeed, escape with the victory.
It was a close call, but the Bruins trotted off the field with a 31-30 comeback win that kept their hopes alive for a Rose Bowl berth.
UCLA's record improved to 3-1 in the Pac-10, tied for second place with Washington, which was upset by Oregon State Saturday. The only undefeated team in the conference is Arizona, where UCLA will play Nov. 9.
"We're back in the race now," said UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, whose team is 5-1-1 overall. "We love it."
Washington State dropped to 2-5 overall, 2-3 in the conference.
"Everybody would say that Washington State has only won two games, so they're not very good," Donahue said. "But I'll tell you, they can play with anybody in the country. Their offensive team is impossible to get your arms around.
"They were one point shy today, but (WSU Coach) Jim Walden does as good a job as anyone in the conference week in and week out."
The UCLA defensive unit managed to keep Washington State slightly under its average but still gave up 421 yards in total offense.
To counter that, UCLA rolled up 410 yards of its own.
It doesn't get much closer. And if Walden had thought that close was good enough, he could have called upon John Traut to kick the extra point for the tie after the Cougars' final touchdown with 3:44 left.
There might be some second-guessers on that call, but Donahue will not be among them. "I thought they would go for two," he said. They went for two last year against USC (when the Cougars trailed, 29-27). They didn't make it then, and I was hoping they wouldn't make it this time. They had to go for it. A victory over UCLA would make their season. A tie doesn't do them any good."
Walden said that he had no problem at all making the decision to go for two. "We went out there to win," he said. "The receiver we were going to throw it to was open, but the guy (Batchkoff) did a great job knocking the ball down. If he doesn't knock it down, it's a two-point play."
Commenting on that play by Batchkoff, UCLA quarterback David Norrie said: "I'm just glad that Frank always drinks his milk to grow so big and tall."
Batchkoff, who at 6-4 is not easily passed over, said: "I thought they'd sweep to my side like they did on the previous play, because with Washington State, if something works one time, they come right back with it.
"I just started skating out with him to contain the quarterback as he set up to throw, and he threw it right over me."
That was a big play for the Bruins, but it was a day for big plays.
Washington State started it in the opening minutes of the game with a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown by Kitrick Taylor.
UCLA scored its first touchdown on a 46-yard pass from Norrie to Willie (Flipper) Anderson.
The scoring continued at that pace throughout the first half, and Washington State was leading, 24-17, and just about to score again as time was running down in the first half. But an interception by UCLA free safety James Washington at the goal line saved what might have been a back-breaking touchdown.
Donahue counted Washington's interception among the biggest of the big plays.
Incredibly, after the wild first half, it was a 0-0 third period.
Fumbles bounced back and forth, for one thing. And Washington's State's final possession of the period ended when safety Craig Rutledge intercepted a forced pass from Rypien. Defensive tackle Mark Walen and outside linebacker Eric Smith had chased Rypien about 25 yards backward. The quarterback was looking at a big loss if he didn't unload the ball--so he unloaded.
"He wasn't really throwing it to anyone," Rutledge said. "I think he might have been throwing it out of bounds. I was watching for it because I knew he had to throw. I caught it because it was a real floater."
Rutledge probably wouldn't have caught a bullet pass, for he had broken his left thumb in the first half and was playing with it taped.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a player show more courage than Craig Rutledge did playing the whole second half like that," Donahue said.