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Bruins Have a Close Call in Corvallis : UCLA: Merten's fourth-quarter field goals are the difference in a 20-17 victory over Oregon State.


CORVALLIS, Ore. — The sentence had been served, release granted and a collective sigh of relief was felt. Universally, there was a cry to run for the border.

"We feel like we escaped," said Matt Werner, a member of a defensive unit that had just given up 338 rushing yards.

"Escaped," safety Travis Collier agreed.

"We just want to get the hell out of here and watch some Wildcat film," said Ricky Davis, part of the UCLA offense that played just well enough to beat Oregon State, 20-17, Saturday before 30,108 at Parker Stadium.

The film reference is to undefeated Arizona, which the Bruins play Saturday night in the Rose Bowl in a game that has Pacific 10 championship implications.

"We were lucky to get away with the victory," Werner said. "We kept talking that we weren't going to look ahead, but maybe it's just human nature, coming off the Washington game and having Arizona ahead."

"We were playing a team that is usually at the bottom of the conference, that we usually dominate," Collier added. "We're coming to a place out in the boondocks. It was hard to get up emotionally for the game."

In its homecoming, Oregon State, 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Pac-10, had no such problems. "It was our game," said quarterback Rahim Muhammad, whose option pitch to Cameron Reynolds was turned into a 43-yard touchdown and a 17-14 Beaver lead in the third quarter.

In the end, the Bruins (5-2, 3-1) won their fifth game in a row when Bjorn Merten made two fourth-quarter field goals of 35 yards and Brooke Knight missed an attempt from 32 by perhaps a foot.

"I felt sorry for him," Merten said of Knight, who had been successful on only two of four tries all season before the game was put on his shoulders. "I mean, I was happy for my teammates, but I was sorry for him as soon as they said the kick was no good."

The game got into such straits because the Bruins struggled in defending against the basic play in Oregon State's wishbone arsenal. The offense begins with the fullback plunging up the middle, and three Beaver fullbacks generated 133 of Oregon State's 338 rushing yards in a game in which Muhammad threw only two passes, both incomplete.

"They really gave us the fullback inside," Oregon State Coach Jerry Pettibone said.

The Bruins weren't trying to, particularly late in the game. Then, when UCLA concentrated on stopping the fullback, Muhammad would fake, then take off.

The play generated Oregon State's second touchdown and the 17-14 lead.

UCLA had just scored, Wayne Cook hitting J.J. Stokes in the end zone from nine yards, their 13th scoring connection of the season and 11th in the last four games.

Oregon State came back, J.J. Young running 22 yards to the UCLA 43 on the first play of the series. Then Muhammad faked to the fullback, headed left and found room, with Young knocking down UCLA's Tommy Bennett to provide it. Fifteen yards downfield, the Bruins' Marvin Goodwin closed in on Muhammad, who flipped the ball to Reynolds for the rest of the yardage.

"Everybody on the defense was keying to stop the fullback on that play," Collier said. "We smacked the fullback pretty good."

But Muhammad had the ball.

He also had it on a 32-yard scramble on third and three in the Beavers' final series. Everybody on the field went left, so Muhammad went right to the UCLA 22. Three more plays put it on the 15, fourth and three.

Pettibone was ready to settle for a tie with 4:22 to play. "If we'd been a little closer, say fourth and one or two, we might have gone for the touchdown," he said. "Brooke had kicked one earlier, and there was plenty of time left in the game for us to do more."

But Knight missed, and UCLA kept the ball for the remainder of that time, including a fourth-down run by Davis that allowed the Bruins to run the clock out.

There seemed to be no problem in the early going, UCLA taking a 7-0 lead on Skip Hicks' one-yard run 11 plays after a bad snap from center allowed Derek Ayers to block an Oregon State punt. But the Bruins began making mistakes, including a fumbled exchange between Cook and Hicks on the Oregon State 18 that was returned 55 yards by the Beavers' Dennis Edwards; and a mishandled field-goal try, Merten kicking wide from 37 yards when the center snap threw off the play's timing.

Knight's 21-yard field goal with nine minutes to play in the second quarter brought Oregon State to within 7-3, and the UCLA offense was sputtering. Cook, in particular, was having a difficult day.

"My arm was just kind of live today," said Cook, who completed 15 of 31 for 183 yards. "I was like (Philadelphia relief pitcher) Mitch Williams, the Wild Thing. I couldn't control it."

He missed open receivers and hit others with passes that were dropped. Stokes caught eight passes for 86 yards, but had two drops.

Oregon State took a 10-7 lead in the third quarter on John Young's one-yard touchdown, countered by the Cook-to-Stokes score.

Then Reynolds took Muhammad's pitch for the Beavers' final lead.

"If you give a team like that a chance and they think they can play with you, they can," Cook said.

The Bruin quarterback sought satisfaction in a particularly unsatisfying victory.

"We didn't put up the points we should have," he said. "We didn't run the ball as well as we should have. Maybe it's a good sign. We played a horrible football game and we won. Those close games, we're winning. . . . In the early part of the season we weren't."

But he agreed with the consensus.

"Escaped," he said.

RETRO OFFENSE: Oregon State's dated wishbone proves difficult to stop even without threat of the pass. C8

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