Behind the sputtering ineptitude, behind the fits and starts, behind the ugliness of Cal State Fullerton's offense against the University of the Pacific on Saturday, there was a very, very subtle beauty.
It wasn't that Fullerton couldn't sustain a drive. It was just that the Titans were setting up their kicker, Stan Lambert, the guy with the great leg outside of 30 yards and a bum one any closer.
How else to explain a game-winning drive that began at Pacific's 33-yard line and ended at the 32? You read it right: a 1-yard scoring drive.
It was the ideal set-up for Lambert, who came on and kicked a 49-yard field goal with 9 minutes left, giving Fullerton a 13-10 victory in front of 2,924 in Santa Ana Stadium.
What planning by the offense. Such foresight.
Had Fullerton driven 20 yards deeper, forcing Lambert to try a 29-yarder, the Titans' chances might not have been so good. Lambert missed two from within 30 yards last week.
But as it was, Lambert nailed a line-drive 49-yarder--his second field goal of the game--having only to overcome a one-hop snap that holder Rocky Palamara steadied just in time.
Last season, Fullerton might have lost a game it shouldn't have when it outgained Pacific by 305 yards but lost, 22-14. But against Pacific Saturday, the Titans won one they shouldn't have.
Only a tie would have served justice in this one.
"Ineptitude is the polite word for it," Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy said. "You can say it's ugly, but I remember last year was ugly, too . . . I'm not going to give it back."
Fullerton's offense didn't make a first down until 21 minutes had elapsed, and managed only 78 total yards in the first half.
What was worse, the Titans repeatedly wasted the field position that their defense worked to give them. Fullerton got the ball at Pacific's 39, 46, and 41 in the first quarter--and came up empty every time.
"We're going to have to get a heck of a lot better," Murphy said.
This was a game that clearly belonged to the defense.
Pacific finished with 154 yards, and only 32 in the second half.
And get this, the Tigers, a wishbone team, finished with 25 net yards rushing after Fullerton dropped them for 55 yards in losses.
"We couldn't handle their defensive line," Pacific Coach Bob Cope said. "They just dominated us. We couldn't run at all. . . . They brought it to us all day."
The defense also preserved the victory when it held Pacific outside of field-goal range on its final possession.
Fullerton made one glaring error on defense, and it cost.
Troy Cole, Pacific's split end, beat Fullerton cornerback James Howard so badly that he had a 10-yard advantage before quarterback Ron Beverly lofted the ball. There was no reason to give chase. The 77-yard touchdown pass play and Mark Gran's conversion gave Pacific a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
"We fooled them on that one," Cole said. "All game, (the Fullerton defense) had been coming up on that play. So I ran the route, hesitated like I was going to stop for the pass and then streaked on past (the defender)."
Fullerton managed to tie the score late in the first half, with the help of Earl Williams' 48-yard kickoff return.
Williams' return gave Fullerton a first-and-10 at the Pacific 38. Seven plays later, quarterback Dan Speltz threw his first touchdown pass of the season when he hit Palamara on a 7-yard slant-in.
Gran made a 40-yard field goal before the half, giving Pacific a 10-7 lead. Fullerton tied the score, 10-10, late in the third quarter on a 45-yard field goal by Lambert.
That Fullerton offense--or lack thereof--was the story of the game. Truth be told, it has been the story of the Titans' season. This is the third time in four games that the offense has scored 10 or fewer points.
Murphy calls the problem "inconsistency," which is a way of saying that the problem is plenty big.
"Our offensive problems are a matter of one or two different guys each play," Murphy said. "We didn't line up properly one time. . . . You can't pinpoint one person. It could be the left guard or the fullback or a wide receiver not lining up right. Believe me, we work on it."
Against Pacific, a majority of the problems seemed to be on the offensive line. Speltz was sacked three times officially, but he was hurried and harried most of the day and finished plenty of plays on his back.
"We made mistakes all around," said Speltz, who completed 12 of 26 passes for 155 yards with 1 interception. "You've got to keep your head up. You can't get down on your (line)."
There was also the matter of Fullerton's tailback situation. By the end of the game, the leading rusher was Williams, who a week ago was the scout-team tailback.
Starter Michael Moore was put out indefinitely with a knee injury in last week's game. Backup Mike Pringle, who Murphy says is "beat up," didn't practice this week and carried only 8 times for 21 yards. Palente Henry, the third-stringer, was somewhat ineffective. So it was that Williams had 11 carries, more than any other back, and finished with 49 yards.