LAS VEGAS — Cal State Fullerton was headed full-throttle toward what Coach Gene Murphy calls "self-destruction" against Nevada Las Vegas Saturday night.
The Titans couldn't seem to score a touchdown from first-and-goal, and the demons that haunt kicker Stan Lambert inside 30 yards were acting up.
But guess what? UNLV did a bit of self-destructing itself. The Titans capitalized on six UNLV turnovers, and Fullerton took a 20-10 Big West Conference victory in front of 18,865 in the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, winning here for the first time since 1972.
Had Fullerton lost, Murphy's "self-destruction speech," one he has used before, would have been forthcoming.
"You almost got it," Murphy said. "Missed field goals, receivers open . . . We missed some scoring opportunities."
But after trailing at halftime, 10-9, Fullerton came back.
"We knew we could move the ball, it was just a matter of scoring," Murphy said.
In the second half--after another drive stalled near the goal line ending in Lambert's second missed short-yardage field goal--Fullerton pulled away.
Late in the third quarter, a 12-yard run by Mike Pringle gave the Titans a first-and-goal at the 1. It took three tries, but Pringle finally carried the ball in from a yard out.
Fullerton went for the two-point conversion and made it on Dan Speltz's lofted pass to John Gibbs in the right corner of the end zone, making it 17-10. That was all the Titans would need, but Lambert got a chance to at least partially redeem himself.
An interception by Jerry Leggett at UNLV's 33 gave Fullerton good field position, as other turnovers had.
Fullerton drove to a first-and-goal, but once again the Titans couldn't score a touchdown. Once again, Lambert came on for a short field goal--this one, a 23-yarder, he made, putting Fullerton ahead, 20-10.
"I just have to get mentally tougher on the shorter ones," said Lambert, who made 7 of 8 field goals from beyond 40 yards last season and just 5 of 9 within 40 yards. "On that last one, I concentrated more."
The victory was Fullerton's first of the season, after lopsided losses to Southwestern Louisiana and West Virginia.
UNLV, which lost to Baylor in its opener, dropped to 0-2.
Except for numerous miscues, Fullerton easily might have led by 10 points at halftime, but instead trailed, 10-9.
UNLV scored on its first possession, a 14-play, 80-yard drive sustained by the running of Tommy Jackson, who accounted for 55 of those yards. The Rebels ran the ball every play but one, an incomplete pass by Scott Sims, and went ahead, 7-0, when Sims carried the ball in from the 1-yard line.
Sims struggled in the game, completing only 2 of 10 passes with 2 interceptions.
Fullerton responded with a ground attack of its own. The Titans put the ball in Michael Moore's hands six times, and Moore racked up 55 yards. But after getting a first-and-goal at the 6 on Speltz's 16-yard pass to Gibbs, the Fullerton drive stalled. Moore tried to take the ball in twice, and was turned back twice. On third down, Speltz' pass for Moore in the end zone was just out of reach, and Fullerton had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Lambert.
Fullerton very quickly got another chance. UNLV fumbled a handoff between Sims and Jackson on the first play of the next possession, and Fullerton's Kevin Henderson recovered at the 18.
Three plays later, Moore scored on a three-yard run. But the snap on the extra-point attempt was botched, and Fullerton was left with just a 9-7 lead.
Fullerton got still another chance in the second quarter, when Sims fumbled trying to get a pass off as he was sacked by A.J. Jenkins. Harold Jones recovered at UNLV's 7-yard line.
But once again Fullerton, couldn't score a touchdown. This time Pringle tried twice to carry the ball in, and Speltz's third-down pass was thrown out of the end zone. Lambert came on for a 27-yard field attempt--his demon--and missed.
Late in the half, UNLV took a 10-9 lead on Jim Cook's 30-yard field goal, after the Rebels forced and recovered a fumble by Michael Moore at Fullerton's 23.
Fullerton's turnaround wasn't all because of UNLV blunders.
The Fullerton defense, led by A.J. Jenkins, who had two sacks and caused at least one fumble, did its part.
"Our defense was outstnading tonight," Murphy said. "We've always said defense was the strength of this team. We were able to force them into some turnovers, which turned out to be a big key."
UNLV quarterbacks were intercepted three times--by Leggett, James Howard and Sean Fernandes.
Speltz, the Fullerton quarterback, struggled extremely in the first two games, but improved in the second half Saturday.
"You saw the progression of a quarterback," Murphy said.
After completing 4 of 11 passes in the first half, Speltz threw for 123 yards on 11 of 23 passes, and for the first game this season, was not intercepted.
"We got better this week in all phases of the game and will have to continue to do that each week," Speltz said. "Like down at the goal line, we have to improve."
Fullerton established itself with the running game, getting 63 yards from Moore, who left the game with an ankle injury, and 76 from Pringle, who took over.
"We didn't do anything special in the second half," Pringle said. "We just wanted it worse then they did."
Tony Dill, who was Fullerton's starting quarterback for the last half of the 1985 season, made his debut at wide receiver Saturday, entering the game in the second quarter and catching one pass for 12 yards. Another pass hit Dill in the chest, but he couldn't hang on. . . . Two former Fullerton coaches were on the UNLV sidelines. UNLV coach Wayne Nunnely coached the defensive line at Fullerton in 1979. UNLV offensive coordinator Rod Bell played for the Titans in 1976 and '77, and helped coach the offensive line for two seasons after that.