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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 11

Bruins Eligible and Inviting

College football: UCLA qualifies for bowl game and denies Stanford with palpitating 37-35 victory.

November 05, 2000|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Bruins are back in the bowl business, and what bowl game wouldn't want to feature this team? They score a lot of points. They give up a lot of points. They have a stud at running back and another at wide receiver. And they keep fans in the stands, because for all the points they score, they never score enough to drive a dagger deep enough into the heart of their opponents.

The Bruins sweated out the final quarter, and final minute, of a 37-35 victory over Stanford at the Rose Bowl Saturday. They handed the ball to DeShaun Foster and threw the ball to Freddie Mitchell and hoped that would be enough. On this day, it was.

And so UCLA won its sixth game of the season, the magic number required for bowl eligibility. The Bruins will probably spend Christmas in Hawaii, playing in either the Aloha Bowl or Oahu Bowl, but the UCLA players refused to permit thoughts of swaying palms to creep into their heads. After the Bruins finished 4-7 last season, the knowledge that this season will not end with the USC game is reward enough, and redemption.

"It feels good," defensive back Audie Attar said. "To get to a bowl game is a very good privilege.

"We knew last season was a bad season. We embarrassed ourselves and the university."

Foster scored two touchdowns and ran for 159 yards and Mitchell caught seven passes for one touchdown and a career-high 185 yards as the Bruins (6-3 overall, 3-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference) eliminated Stanford, the defending conference champion, from bowl consideration. The Cardinal (3-6, 2-4) lost for the fifth time in six games.

UCLA won by two points Saturday, by three points last week and by three points in previous victories over Michigan and Fresno State. They beat Arizona State by seven, lost to Oregon State by six, lost to California in triple-overtime.

So, when a 13-point lead dwindled to two Saturday, the Bruins shrugged. They were used to it, even if they haven't quite figured out how to fix it.

"I think that was a little more suspenseful than we had in mind," offensive lineman Brian Polak said. "But that seems to be our thing."

The Bruins got more than their fair share of contributions from their supporting cast. Senior defensive back Jason Zdenek returned his first career interception for his first career touchdown. Tight end Mike Seidman caught his first touchdown pass. Ed Ieremia-Stansbury hit Tab Perry on the halfback option. Dave Ball and Rodney Leisle recovered fumbles and seldom-used defensive back Joe Hunter broke up two passes.

Thank you all. But, in the fourth quarter, the Bruins basically played three cards--Foster, Mitchell and quarterback Cory Paus. The Bruins ran 19 plays in the fourth quarter, only one involving someone other than those three.

"When you've got to put the nail in the coffin, you've got to go with your key people," Coach Bob Toledo said.

UCLA led, 30-28, with 7:34 left, but the Bruins disdained running out the clock. Paus hit Mitchell with consecutive passes, one for 13 yards and the other for 41 yards and a touchdown. Stanford responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive, and the UCLA lead reverted to two points.

This time, with 4:11 left, the Bruins tried to run out the clock. Foster ran twice, Paus ran, Foster ran twice more. Then--what was this?--Paus was throwing a bomb toward Mitchell.

Toledo never wanted Paus to throw. Paus was supposed to find some open space, run for a few yards and take some time off the clock.

Mitchell was open, enough justification for any quarterback. But Paus' pass was so wobbly that Mitchell had to stop in his tracks and make the play of the game by reaching in front of him and seizing the ball from the hands of Stanford safety Aaron Focht.

"I didn't get a good tight spiral," Paus said. "I thought, uh-oh, it's not going to make it.

"If I would have made a better pass, it would have been a touchdown. But, if it would have been intercepted, I would have been in big trouble."

Said Toledo: "My heart was in my throat. When I saw Freddie jump up with the ball, then it was a great call, wasn't it?"

The Bruins had the ball at the Stanford 12-yard line with under two minutes to play, the right time and place for the score that would extinguish the faint Cardinal hope. Instead, Foster ran three more times and lost a fumble on the last one, giving Stanford the ball at its nine with 31 seconds left.

Four pass attempts, four incompletions. Game, and bowl, to the Bruins.

As offensive lineman Mike Saffer walked off the field, helmet in hand and sweat pouring across his face, he was more exhausted than exhilarated.

"I'm tired," he said. "We would have liked to win in a better fashion, but we're happy with the win."

Said Mitchell: "It was a messy win. No style points at all."

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