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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 4

A Bruin Three-Peat

College football: Come-from-behind victory over Michigan before 88,044 at Rose Bowl is UCLA's second this season against a third-ranked opponent.

September 17, 2000|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

All that hard work to rid the past, and then came Saturday and the memories.

The finishes that double as stress tests.

The unlikely heroes.

The national championship talk?

It was either a mirage shimmering off the Rose Bowl field, where temperatures reached 110 degrees, or the flashbacks that the hotter-than-that UCLA Bruins provided in a 23-20 victory over No. 3 Michigan before 88,044 that put them at 3-0 and probably bound for the top 10 for the first time since 1998.

They were at No. 14 on Saturday, when they made up a 20-10 deficit late in the third quarter to beat a third-ranked team for the second time in three weeks. That made it official: so successful has the image restoration become in such a short time that they demolished the demons of last season and then kept going, offering reminders instead of two years ago and the monumental moments.

Remember the 10-0 start in '98? The Bruins didn't get their third victory last season until Week 6, and that was with nonconference victories over Boise State and Fresno State.

Those tightrope fourth quarters (Marques Anderson's strip against Stanford, Brad Melsby's sideline catch-and-sprint on the rain-slicked turf at Oregon State, etc.)? The Bruins have had to come from behind in all three victories.

The Who Will Save Them This Time? Ed Ieremia-Stansbury, who was switched from linebacker to fullback this season, after originally being switched from quarterback to linebacker, scored the winning touchdown on a two-yard catch with 6:30 to play. Jason Stephens, a backup, secured the victory by intercepting John Navarre's pass with 1:28 left.

"But that's where you want to be," cornerback Jason Bell said.

In the glory days again, and in games at the end again.

"If you're there, that's all you want," Bell said. "A chance."

That they even had one down the stretch Saturday was a development on its own, after Ryan McCann struggled in the first half of his return to the lineup at quarterback, several receivers dropped passes to increase the burden, DeShaun Foster fumbled going up the middle, Ricky Manning Jr. fumbled a punt return and the Bruins had a touchdown on another punt return called back because of an illegal block. And they still trailed only 13-3 at halftime to a team that had won its first two games by a combined 80-14.

The Bruins didn't even record their first third-down conversion until the opening drive of the second half. That kept alive a drive that eventually resulted in Foster sweeping right for a five-yard touchdown, making it a three-point game.

Even more encouraging for UCLA, the plays came as part of an 80-yard, 14-play series, establishing a finish in which it would win with long, sustained drives. When Michigan scored on Chris Perry's nine-yard run soon after, for example, the Bruins' immediate response was to go 80 yards in 10 plays. Brian Poli-Dixon capped that with a 20-yard catch from McCann with 2:53 to play in the third quarter. McCann completed nine of his first 14 passes of the second half after going six of 19 before halftime. Overall, McCann completed 21 of 40 passes for 236 yards.

The Bruins were within 20-17. It was still a three-point game until about the midpoint of the fourth quarter, partly because a drive early in the fourth ended with Ieremia-Stansbury's fumble at the Michigan 31.

Instead, it only made for a greater backdrop. The Wolverines went three and out and punted, saved only in that it was a 50-yard kick that made UCLA start at its own 15. A 23-yard pass from McCann to Freddie Mitchell, a 29-yard run by Foster and a 14-yard tackle-breaking gain by Jermaine Lewis were the biggest factors in the ball getting to the Michigan eight.

"It was a testament to the heart of this team," tackle Mike Saffer said of the Bruins' ability to control the line of scrimmage late. "Nobody gave up. In the first half, we put up three points, and nobody was fazed."

It was second and goal from the two when Ieremia-Stansbury, on the hook for the fumble, got another chance. McCann found him at the goal line and flipped the ball, making for a 23-20 lead, and for personal redemption.

"My biggest moment," Ieremia-Stansbury said. "This outdoes anything I've ever done. It's what I've worked for and it's an awesome feeling."

Not so great for the Bruins was what followed, a missed extra point. That meant Michigan needed only a field goal to keep its hopes alive. It even got that chance, but Hayden Epstein missed a 24-yard field-goal attempt with 3:27 to play, after missing a 46-yarder earlier in the quarter.

It's just that it wasn't the last chance. The Wolverines got the ball back with 2:48 remaining, starting a drive at the UCLA 38 thanks to a 35-yard punt return by Ronald Bellamy. They were at the 25 when Navarre dropped back to pass. He threw over the middle for Marquise Walker, but Stephens intercepted, a fitting ending for Navarre. The national leader in passing efficiency coming in, he completed only eight of 28 passes for 111 yards.

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