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It's Wide and Not Right

SPORTS EXTRA / COLLEGE FOOTBALL | No. 7 OREGON 21,
No. 17 UCLA 20

Pacific 10: After Toledo goes conservative, Griffith's last-second field goal attempt misses from 50 yards and Bruins lose third in a row.

November 11, 2001|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the seconds were deemed no longer precious, only time to burn, UCLA kicker Chris Griffith knew for certain.

The Bruins' longshot hopes of beating Oregon without suspended tailback DeShaun Foster had become his longest shot of the season.

Coach Bob Toledo let the clock run down to two ticks, then sent Griffith out for a 50-yard field-goal attempt--a yard longer than the longest Griffith has made as a Bruin.

The kick fell short and wide--a lot like UCLA's season.

The 21-20 loss in front of 78,330 at the Rose Bowl left the Bruins--once 6-0 with thoughts of playing for the national championship--with a 6-3 record in spite of a spirited effort without Foster, suspended for accepting use of an SUV in violation of NCAA extra-benefit rules.

"Seconds left, a 50-yard field goal to win the game, that's just a dream," Griffith said. "Too bad it didn't come true."

Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti followed the flight of the ball and saw his seventh-ranked Ducks improve to 9-1.

"I just said a prayer on the sideline," Bellotti said. "His longest career field goal was 49 yards, so I felt pretty good about our chances. Any field goal over 42 yards, you have to say the percentage goes down. If he makes the field goal, they deserve to win."

It didn't work out for the Bruins--nor did Toledo's moves down the stretch.

They were decisions so easily second-guessed that Toledo answered the questions before they were even asked after the game.

Had the Bruins completed a two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point after Manuel White's one-yard touchdown run with 13:56 left in the game, the score might have been tied, 21-21.

But Toledo said he judged it far too early to risk putting the Bruins in position to get beaten by two field goals, up by only five if a two-point conversion attempt failed.

Considerably more perplexing was watching UCLA run the ball on five of the last six plays and hand the ball to Akil Harris on third and five from the Oregon 33 with 45 seconds left instead of trying to pass for a first down.

Harris was stopped for no gain before he could get around the corner, leaving Griffith facing a 50-yarder and then some.

Toledo said his fear was an interception--Cory Paus threw one at the Oregon 30 on the previous possession--or a sack that would leave UCLA without a chance even to attempt a field goal.

"I was concerned about turning it over again," Toledo said. "I wanted to get a field goal, put that kid in position to win the game. He's done it before. ... He just hit it a little fat."

Griffith said he felt "comfortable" from 50 yards, and his teammates said they've seen him hit longer in practice.

"We were going to win or lose with the field goal," Toledo said.

They lost--for the third time in a row--on a day when the Bruins pulled out all the stops.

Toledo, known for tricks and gambles, experimented with freshman defensive back Matt Ware at quarterback and receiver, and Ware picked up 71 yards, 49 on a reception and 22 on four carries.

Harris and Manuel White, the backs who assumed the duties usually handled by Foster, the nation's third-leading rusher before Saturday, filled in admirably.

Harris ran for 79 yards and a touchdown in 29 carries and White had 29 and a touchdown in seven carries.

Most notably of all, Paus was near his best, outshining Oregon Heisman Trophy candidate Joey Harrington by passing for a season-best 321 yards and completing 14 of 22 passes, though he was intercepted twice.

Harrington passed for 195 yards without an interception.

Paus' favorite target was Brian Poli-Dixon, back after sitting out three games because of a separated shoulder. Poli-Dixon caught six passes for 149 yards, with a long of 48.

And yet the Bruins lost--and after being ranked 17th this week, they might be on the verge of losing their ranking even after a valiant effort without Foster.

"It's almost like that makes it harder, because you know we're a good team and you know we played well and we could have beat them," Paus said. "It almost makes it harder."

In the end, it was hard for many of them to watch the final kick and not be able to do anything.

"Oh, I mean any receiver wants the ball," Poli-Dixon said. "I definitely wanted the ball, but Coach Toledo makes all the decisions.

"Chris Griffith can kick 60-yard field goals. He was definitely capable of making the field goal."

For all the Bruins did right, there was plenty to look back at.

In the first half, a roughing-the-punter penalty against Audie Attar gave Oregon the ball back, and the Ducks turned the bonus possession into a touchdown and a 14-7 lead after Maurice Morris scored from a yard out. Morris ran for 129 yards in 14 carries, and Onterrio Smith, who filled in for him when he was injured, added 44 yards.

Later in the first half, a run by Harris that would have given UCLA first and goal at the Oregon three was called back because of holding, and Paus threw an interception a couple of plays later, ending the drive.

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