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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / 1996

Cardinal in Good Hands When It Counts

Pacific 10: No longer a starter, Manning makes statement by catching game-winner against Bruins.

November 03, 1996|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the season began, Stanford senior receiver Brian Manning was hoping to end his Cardinal career atop the list of the school's all-time leaders in receiving yardage.

But midway through the season, he found himself sitting on the bench.

Despite numbers that put him among the best receivers in school history--a group that includes James Lofton, Tony Hill, Ken Margerum and Gene Washington--and despite an intense off-season of preparation that included workouts with San Francisco 49er star receiver Jerry Rice, Manning was unable to hang onto his job as a starting wide receiver, largely because he has been unable to hang onto the ball.

So imagine Manning's delight at hanging onto the game-winning touchdown catch Saturday at the Rose Bowl, a 10-yard pass from quarterback Chad Hutchinson that Manning caught in the left corner of the end zone.

You'll have to imagine his delight because Manning, for the first time in his collegiate career, refused to talk to reporters after the game.

Most of those around the team believed Manning didn't talk because of his anger over losing his starting job. Those being more charitable believed it might be because he didn't want to detract from the accomplishments of his teammates.

Pursued by one reporter all the way to a team bus, Manning politely but firmly refused to comment about his catch other than to say, "Praise the Lord."

There was no shortage of praise for Manning from his teammates.

"I thought I overthrew him," Hutchinson said. "I was blocked out on the play so I didn't know. But fortunately, his speed allowed him to catch up with the ball."

Despite being benched four games ago, Manning has still played enough to lead the team in receptions with 28, six more than the total amassed by Andre Kirwan, who has replaced him in the starting lineup.

With four catches for 28 yards Saturday, Manning still has a chance at the school record of 2,482 career receiving yards, set by Justin Armour from 1991-94. With three games remaining, Manning needs 276 yards.

In the first quarter Saturday, it didn't appear as if there would be many receiving yards to be had for anybody in a Cardinal uniform. Operating behind an inexperienced, makeshift line, Hutchinson spent the early part of the game under a pile of Bruin rushers play after play. In all, he was sacked five times and pressured on many other occasions.

But Hutchinson kept getting up, showing unusual poise for a quarterback in his first season.

Instead of berating his teammates, Hutchinson inspired them.

"When a guy is taking a beating like that," said Stanford receiver Troy Walters, who had a game-high eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown, "you can't just blame the offensive line. It means the receivers are not getting open.

"We took it as a challenge. Whenever a guy takes a beating and keeps coming to the sideline with a smile on his face, you know you have someone you can count on. Someone you can ride."

And ride him they did, all the way into the end zone in the final minute, giving Hutchinson revenge for his beating and Manning redemption for his benching.

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