FRESNO — Cal State Fullerton can never say it didn't have its chances Saturday against Fresno State.
The Titans, trailing 21-17, had five plays from the three-yard line or closer in the third quarter. And five times, the Fresno State defense stopped the Titans.
In the end, the Bulldogs not only stopped Fullerton short of the goal line, but ended any Titan hopes of getting even a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. title.
Fresno State's 21-17 victory in front of a crowd of 33,522 in Bulldog Stadium, combined with San Jose State's victory over Pacific Saturday, gave the title to San Jose State. Fullerton (5-5, 4-2), is left in a scramble for second, along with Fresno (5-4, 3-2).
Fullerton, which once led, 10-0, got a first down at the Bulldog three after Ronnie Barber completed a 29-yard pass to John Gibbs. On the next play, running back Eric Franklin dived to near the one. On second down, Barber fumbled and recovered the snap, but the Titans got the play back because of an encroachment call against Fresno. Franklin was stopped for no gain on the next play. After a timeout, Barber threw an incomplete pass under heavy pressure on third down. On fourth down, his pass to the right corner of the end zone fell off the fingertips of tight end Bill Brennan.
"We created our own adversity," said Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy. "We got to the one-yard line and couldn't score. You ought to be able to do that."
After that, Fresno stopped Fullerton in Titan territory on a fourth-down try and once again on fourth down in the final quarter, and Fullerton's last possession ended on a fumble by Barber.
The game had looked as if it would be a classic PCAA scoring fest as the teams combined for four touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half. But in the second half, things were very different--no one scored at all.
Fullerton had taken its 10-0 lead in the first quarter, largely on Barber's passing and scrambling. Barber threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Todd White, and Stan Lambert kicked a 26-yard field goal set up by an interception by Chris Wright that gave Fullerton the ball at the Fresno State 37.
Fresno State twice missed opportunities to score, first when Barry Belli missed a 44-yard field goal attempt, and later when Darren Emery blocked Belli's second attempt, this one from 18 yards.
After that, things got hectic.
First, Dave Telford, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 324 yards, found Ron Jenkins wide open behind the Fullerton defense, and Jenkins carried the ball in easily for a 50-yard touchdown play. Fresno took its first lead of the game on its next possession, again on a long pass as Brock Smith outran Fullerton cornerback James Howard to catch a 34-yard pass in the end zone, making it 14-10 with 1:15 to play in the half.
But Fullerton's Michael Moore took the kickoff at the seven-yard line, sprinted down the left sideline before cutting back to the middle where he spun free of several defenders and ran in for a 93-yard kickoff return.
That took all of 14 seconds. When Fresno got the ball back, Telford completed four quick passes--three of them to Smith--and then Dean Collins scored on a 22-yard run off a draw play, giving Fresno a 21-17 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the half.
That, and a lot of defense, would be all Fresno needed.
"I think that's about as hard as our kids have played on either side of the ball," Murphy said.
"This one was a big disappointment," said Barber, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 206 yards, despite being under pressure much of the time. Fresno sacked Barber seven times.
Franklin was responsible for most of Fullerton's yardage on the ground, rushing for 115 yards in 24 carries, his third straight 100-yard game.
But the story of the game ended up being the defense, particularly Fresno's.
"That was a great goal-line stand," Fresno Coach Jim Sweeney said. "We've had great ones before, but never to save a game."
Sweeney also took the opportunity to praise the Fresno fans on the roar they put up during the goal-line stand--one so loud that play twice was stopped because the Titans couldn't hear the snap count. "Crowd noise is a part of big-time football," Sweeney said. I was awfully proud of the way our crowd supported us."
Murphy wasn't calling that the difference in the game, though.
"That's not a reason," he said. "We practiced that; we played against LSU and Florida, too, but we didn't get that close (to scoring). . . . (Tonight) we ran everyone and their brother and we couldn't score. That's a little disappointing.
"I think the game can be divided into three parts, and I think we lost the game because of stupid errors on our part. Penalties (Fullerton was penalized 14 times for 138 yards), poor play selection on third down, and--I'm not just complaining or griping--but I don't think the officiating was very good."