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Bruins Sidestep Upset

College football: Stanford fumbles going into the end zone in final minutes and UCLA survives, 28-24.

November 01, 1998|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

Stanford turned a football game that was supposed to be a rout into a thriller Saturday at the Rose Bowl, before finally losing to national powerhouse UCLA, 28-24, before a Bruin homecoming crowd of 62,820.

The Bruins were 6-0, ranked No. 2 in most polls, No. 1 in the computer poll that will determine the No. 1 versus 2 playoff later.

Stanford was 1-6, including losses to San Jose State and Oregon State, and was ranked nowhere, of course.

But the Cardinal, game and feisty, strung UCLA out all the way to the end, forcing it to march to a late touchdown by DeShaun Foster on an eight-yard run and then forcing the Bruins to hold on through an incredible late play to win.

That incredible play, in the final two minutes, had Stanford wide receiver Jeff Allen catching a pass from Todd Husak and carrying it all the way to the UCLA two-yard line. There, just a step away from the upset of the season, Allen had the ball yanked away from him by the Bruins' Marques Anderson and had it recovered by Bruin teammate Larry Atkins.

Instead of a Stanford touchdown and a national shocker, UCLA had held on.

And even after that, it wasn't until Husak was sacked on the last play that the Bruins were safe from this scrappy, gutty Cardinal team that entered the game a 22-point underdog.

The score was tied at 14-14 at the end of the first period, and it was difficult to tell which team had been named the No. 1 team in the country last week in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) poll.

That, of course, was UCLA. But on this Saturday, at least for the first 30 minutes, the big-bad Bruins with the perfect record and growing national prominence, looked a lot more like a throwback to the Gutty-Little Bruin days.

One example of how things were going for UCLA was Cade McNown suffering two interceptions on the same drive. This, of course, was the same Cade McNown who is a top Heisman trophy candidate, and may remain so even as Ricky Williams of Texas ran all over Nebraska Saturday to solidify his claim as the leader.

On McNown's fateful series, he had a pass intercepted by Stanford's Donnie Spragan, but after a 13-yard return, Spragan had the ball stolen back by UCLA tight end Ryan Neufeld. Three plays later, McNown had a pass intercepted by Stanford's Tim Smith, and this time it cost him.

Husak, leader of a fine Stanford offense that has scored a lot all year but suffered from a defense that seems to have trouble tackling Grandma Moses, found wide receiver Dave Davis wide open down the middle. Davis caught the pass over his shoulder, shrugged off Bruin defender Ryan Roques and continued into the end zone to complete a 49-yard scoring play.

That put the Cardinal ahead, 14-7. It also woke a sleeping giant.

McNown, who had limped off the field after his interception by Smith, quickly found Brian Poli-Dixon open by 20 yards and suddenly, it was 14-14 with just under three minutes left. Poli-Dixon's scoring play covered 53 yards.

Stanford had marched 65 yards for the first score, ending with a one-yard run by Juan-Carlos Lacey. UCLA answered with Keith Brown's 33-yard run, the Bruin junior tiptoeing down the sideline the last five yards to score.

The Cardinal actually out-gained the Bruin machine in the first half, 249 yards to 230. And Husak's passing numbers, 13 of 23 for 22 yards, outshined McNown's 12-19 for 162, with two interceptions.

And UCLA's problems, incredibly, continued in the third period.

The Cardinal kicked a field goal, blocked a Bruin field goal and turned it into a touchdown. And suddenly, going into the final period, Stanford had a 24-14 lead over the team that is, arguably, the best in the country.

The Cardinal took the kickoff to open the second half, marched into position for Kevin Miller's field-goal attempt and watched as his 36-yarder sailed through the uprights.

On the next series, Chris Sailer's 50-yard attempt was blocked by Stanford's Davis, and the Cardinal was able to start its next series at UCLA's 39-yard line. Five plays later, Randy Fasani, who occasionally replaces Kusak near the goal line, passed three yards to tight end Russell Stewart, and Stanford had TV football update shows all over the country scrambling to report the news:

Stanford had a 10-point lead on UCLA!

Stanford entered the fourth period with more yards, 346 to 324, and more passing yards, 287 to 238, than the vaunted Bruins.

But the Bruins, not little but certainly gutty, weren't done yet.

It started with Roques' 19-yard punt return to Stanford's 36. Six plays, with Foster slashing and sprinting around end, McNown had the Bruins in the end zone, finishing with Brown's second scoring run of the day, a two-yarder that cut Stanford's lead to 24-21.

And there were nearly 14 minutes left.

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