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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 8

A Local Anesthetic

Bruins: Toledo's team left numb after frustrating overtime loss on road in which they can muster only 45 yards rushing.

October 15, 2000|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERKELEY — The Bruins had fallen, and they couldn't get up. Not that quickly. Cory Paus, the quarterback, never saw that last pass, the interception he threw that ended the game. The ferocious California defenders had shoved him to the ground one last time. In defeat, there was no hurry to get up.

Brian Poli-Dixon, the wide receiver, saw that last pass float tantalizingly close to his fingers, then into the hands of Cal cornerback Jemeel Powell. Poli-Dixon couldn't get up, not just right away, because Cal players rushed to that very spot to celebrate the 46-38 victory, followed by hundreds of delirious students.

The UCLA Rose Bowl dream died a slow, painful death here Saturday. In a game that included three overtime periods and required nearly four hours to complete, Cal handed UCLA a defeat that left many Bruin players numb, standing along the sideline, too exhausted and annoyed to leave the field right away. Linebacker Ryan Nece stood in a tunnel beneath the stands, alone with his thoughts. Poli-Dixon and Paus finally got up, neither happily.

"I am as frustrated as you have ever been," Paus said. "Think about how frustrated as you have ever been in your life, and that's how frustrated I am now."

For a team that awoke Saturday ranked No. 13, the Bruins (4-2 overall, 1-2 Pacific 10 Conference) wake up today with an alarmingly large number of questions with negative answers: Can they advance to the Rose Bowl? With two losses in conference play, almost certainly not. Can they run the ball in the absence of injured star tailback DeShaun Foster? With 45 yards rushing, not right now.

Can they win on the road? With eight consecutive road losses, apparently not. Can they play a smart, consistent game from start to finish? Again, apparently not, because the opposing team has scored first in every game this season.

"We wanted to get those monkeys off our back," UCLA Coach Bob Toledo said. "We didn't meet our goals."

If not now, when? The Bears (2-4, 1-2) were inspired, granted. But the Bears also had lost four consecutive games overall and five consecutive Pac-10 games, had the worst offense in the Pac-10 and had scored three points against Fresno State.

"It's always sad when you lose to a 1-4 team," safety Marques Anderson said. "But they didn't play like a 1-4 team. From the first play, they played hard."

Said tailback Jermaine Lewis: "We weren't supposed to lose to this team. I still think we're a much better team than Cal. You see the upset look on people's faces. We let it get away. Actually, we handed it to them."

Actually, Cal handed UCLA a sporting chance to stay in a game that the Bears should have clinched before anyone ever imagined overtime. The Bruins scored three of their four touchdowns after Cal turnovers, and those three touchdowns marked the only UCLA drives during regulation that started inside Cal territory.

In the final minute of the second quarter, Cal quarterback Kyle Boller lost a fumble at the Cal five, and Paus connected with tight end Bryan Fletcher on a four-yard touchdown pass.

The Bears had a 28-14 lead within the final 10 minutes of regulation, at a point where the Bruins had failed to register two first downs on any drive in the second half, but UCLA converted two more turnovers into touchdowns.

A marvelous interception by Anderson--snaring a tipped ball while on his back--was soon followed by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Paus to Akil Harris. On the Bears' next possession, linebacker Tony White recovered a Joseph Echema fumble and returned it 12 yards to the Cal 41. Three plays later, Paus hit Freddie Mitchell with a 35-yard touchdown pass that tied the score, 28-28.

"I was feeling pretty good," Toledo said. "'I thought we were going to win it."

Said Paus: "I was pretty excited when it got to overtime. We were just fighting back the whole game."

In the first overtime, the Bears scored a touchdown on their second play, a 22-yard pass from Boller to Derek Swafford. The Bruins scored a touchdown on their 11th play, needing a fourth-down pass, a fourth-down offside penalty against Cal and two sneaks by Paus to keep hope alive.

In the second overtime, Chris Griffith kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Bruins their first lead. Cal's Mark-Christian Jensen, who had not made a field goal longer than 27 yards this season, hit one from 37 to tie the score, 38-38, and force a third overtime.

Cal again went first, with tailback Joe Igber scoring from three yards. NCAA rules require teams to try a two-point conversion after the first two overtime periods, and Boller hit Geoff McArthur for a 46-38 lead. In their previous four games, the Bears scored 45 points.

Paus threw two passes toward Poli-Dixon, the first too short and the second too high and intercepted, and the Bruins had lost.

The Bruins should not expect to spend New Year's Day playing football.

"The Rose Bowl will be real tough right now, but there's plenty of great bowl games we can get into," offensive lineman Brian Polak said.

And how big was the victory for Cal?

"When you lose four games in a row and it's a big game, it's always a big win," Cal nose tackle Jacob Waasdorp said. "You know it's UCLA--I think they're ranked. I don't even know."

Saturday, the Bruins were ranked. Today, they might not be.

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