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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 12

This Edition of Big Game Isn't One for Books

Pac-10: Stanford is a 10-3 winner over Cal in a ho-hum affair.

November 22, 1998|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERKELEY — No need to put everyone through the misery of reliving Stanford's 10-3 victory over California in the 101st "Big Game." Let the sleepy proceedings be summarized by a single play in the second quarter.

It all started when Stanford quarterback Todd Husak rolled left and was hit by Cal defensive end Mawuko Tugbenyoh. The ball squirted loose and both teams commenced to bobbling and kicking it, slowly, inexorably, toward the Stanford end zone.

At one point, a Cal player stripped the ball loose from one of his teammates.

Finally, Cal recovered at the Stanford 18-yard line . . . only to have officials say that Husak had been down by contact.

The ruling allowed the Cardinal to continue a drive that netted minus-24 yards in three plays.

That pretty much sums up the kind of football these rivals played before an announced crowd of 69,000, give or take a few hundred, on a gray Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

It was an afternoon in which Cal rushed for minus-36 yards. An afternoon in which Stanford kicker Kevin Miller shanked two field-goal attempts and a punt.

And when Cal, 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Pacific 10, threatened to cause some excitement, returning a punt deep into Stanford territory with time running out, it was an afternoon that ended much as it began, with yet another pass from quarterback Justin Vedder bouncing harmlessly off the turf.

"There's always something different about the Big Game," Stanford Coach Tyrone Willingham said. "History says it's unpredictable."

Or, as Cal wide receiver Joel Young said: "Poor execution, poor play calling, and some players just didn't make plays."

Most of the action surrounding this game actually took place off the field. There was a mini-riot, a punch- and bottle-throwing melee between rival students, for half-an-hour afterward. And there was plenty of suspense involving the Tree--Stanford's tall, floppy, goofy mascot.

In recent seasons, Cal fans had tried at halftime and after the final gun to rip the mascot, well, limb from limb. This time, they did the dirty work in advance, stealing the costume from Stanford more than a month ago.

A group calling itself the Phoenix Five eventually returned the Tree but the Cardinal marching band chose to stuff it into a shredder during a subsequent halftime show.

"It had been at Cal for two weeks," said Chris Henderson, the student who wears the costume at games. "It was tainted."

Henderson is not the sort to take his job lightly. Earlier this year, during something called "Tree Week," he outdueled numerous candidates for the honor of being Stanford's mascot.

Things weren't nearly so intense on the field, where Cal receiver Dameane Douglas broke Keyshawn Johnson's Pacific-10 regular-season record by catching his 100th pass of the season, but couldn't reach the end zone. Husak and Vedder put up decent numbers, throwing for 286 and 234 yards respectively, but couldn't get much done.

It wasn't until the third quarter that Stanford (3-8, 2-6) broke the monotony--or ruined a perfectly good nap--with a spasm of offense.

Husak flipped a three-yard pass that running back Emory Brock turned into a 39-yard gain. On the next play, the junior quarterback connected with his favorite receiver, Troy Walters, for a seven-yard touchdown.

That score provided the long-awaited answer to a solitary Cal field goal in the first quarter. Stanford would drive down field once more, in the fourth quarter, but would fail in three runs from the two-yard line.

"We just weren't clicking," Husak said. "We had a couple of drives but we couldn't finish."

At least the Cardinal got close enough for Miller to kick the ball through the uprights for a 10-3 lead.

The stage was set for one last gasp at an interesting contest. With 2:55 remaining, Cal's Deltha O'Neal fielded a punt at his 12-yard line, cut left, then reversed field and broke free along the sideline. Miller made a saving play, forcing the returner back toward the middle where Tank Williams tripped him up.

From there, Vedder was sacked for the ninth time of a very long day and threw three incomplete passes.

"It appeared we had a little opening there but it just didn't happen," Cal Coach Tom Holmoe said. "That's kind of an example of what we were: Here's the biggest play of the year for our offense, and it blew up at the end."

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