For Cal State Fullerton, Saturday night was filled with experiences new to this season--playing in the Pacific time zone, scoring a touchdown and letting out a victory whoop in the locker room.
The Titans, who in their first two games had been outscored, 100-12, by opponents admittedly out of their league, finally played a team in their league--the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.--and came away with a 31-12 victory over Cal State Long Beach in front of 6,919 in Santa Ana Stadium.
The Titans had twice been beaten by 44 points, losing to Hawaii and sixth-ranked Louisiana State.
Long Beach, however, had taken a different tack in its early nonconference schedule, and was an easy winner in home games against Montana State and Weber State, Division II teams from the Big Sky Conference.
Fullerton, which had been unable to score a touchdown in its two previous games, got its offense going against the 49ers, scoring on its first possession and taking a 17-6 halftime lead.
The 49ers, led by Jeff Graham's passing, had scored 81 total points in their first two games. But they struggled against a Fullerton defense that had allowed 100 points in two games.
Graham passed for almost 3,000 yards last year and had completed 33 of 42 passes this season, but he had a dismal first half, completing 3 of 10 for 32 yards. He finished completing 14 of 27 for 166 yards.
The Titans drove 95 yards on their first possession, moving the ball with quarterback Ronnie Barber's passing and a 15-yard run by Tracey Pierce.
Their first touchdown of the season came when Barber's seven-yard pass intended for White was deflected in a crowd in the end zone, but ended up the hands of tight end Jim Thornton.
"It just feels great," said Eric Franklin, a senior running back who had only 64 career rushing yards before gaining 104 in 20 carries Saturday. "Just knowing we can win now, that's the main thing."
No one was quite saying the lopsided losses were worth it, but apparently they were no longer so painful after the victory over Long Beach.
"I think the caliber of the opposition in the first two games helped us," Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy said. "The kids had to play up to a level against those teams and they maintained it against Long Beach."
Said wide receiver Todd White, who caught 4 passes for 55 yards: "After those games, we kept saying something good had to come out of this."
Barber had his best performance of the season, completing 15 of 24 passes for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. John Gibbs caught 6 of those passes, gaining 82 yards.
"Our offense is going to get better and better," Barber said. "It's just a matter of time."
The 49ers scored on their second possession on a drive keyed by a 23-yard run by Michael Roberts, who was brought down finally by Tyrone Pope at the Fullerton 24-yard line. Roberts carried the ball on four of the next five plays as the 49ers drove to the one-yard line. Graham sneaked over for the touchdown with 13:16 remaining in the half.
David VanSteenkiste missed the extra point attempt, however, leaving the score at 7-6.
Fullerton relied largely on the pass on its first touchdown drive, but its second was all on the ground.
Michael Moore's 46-yard punt return from the 2-yard line, coupled with a 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Titans, put the ball at the Long Beach 37-yard line. The rest--save a no-gain sneak by Barber--was all Franklin. He carried the ball six times before scoring on an eight-yard run around right end.
Stan Lambert, whose four field goals against LSU accounted for all the Titans' scoring before Saturday, gave Fullerton a 17-6 lead on a 20-yard field goal with 4:45 remaining in the half.
The Titans' scored on Pierce's carry from the one-yard line to expand the lead to 24-6 with 12:32 remaining.
Graham was more on the mark in the second half and the 49ers' second touchdown was set up by a 43-yard pass play to Derek Washington. One play later, Graham hit Tyrone McCullouch with a 12-yard touchdown pass. This time, the 49ers went for the two-point conversion but Graham's pass fell incomplete, but Long Beach had cut the Titans' lead to 24-12.
Fullerton's final score came on Barber's 28-yard touchdown pass to Bill Brennan.
The game was marked by numerous penalties--a school record 16 against Fullerton and 11 against Long Beach. A second-quarter brawl that erupted after Graham was chased out of bounds for a loss resulted in personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct calls against both teams, and the ejection of 49er offensive lineman Sonny Pau.