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THE RIVALRY/ No. 7 USC 52, No. 25 UCLA 21

Bad From the First Drop

Bruins don't quit, but they can't make up for turnovers, particularly a fumble by Perry on opening kickoff.

November 24, 2002|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

The UCLA players looked at the scoreboard. They blinked, but the numbers wouldn't go away.

"I mean, it's like it's not even real," cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. said. "It's like, 'There's no way this is happening.'

"It's reality. That's what hurts, because it was real. We were getting beat by that many points. It's just ... weird."

The USC lead was 21 points before 10 minutes were gone. Then it was 28.

Then 35, 38, and finally an astounding 45 points before two late touchdowns in the final three minutes of UCLA's 52-21 loss.

"It felt hopeless out there," said receiver Tab Perry, who started the flood of Bruin mistakes when he fumbled the opening kickoff. USC turned his error into a touchdown one play later.

"There was nothing we could do to really rally back. We were trying. We didn't give up at all," Perry said.

"But the kickoff return was tough. That set the momentum of the game, when I fumbled that."

It was one mistake of far too many, a season's worth of bloopers in one ballgame.

There were seven Bruin fumbles, four of them lost.

There was a high snap by Rusty Williams on a punt that sailed into the backfield, setting up the third Trojan touchdown after it was recovered at the UCLA 23.

There were the two freshman quarterbacks who had trouble handling the immensity of playing in front of 91,084 fans.

Drew Olson stumbled on his first play, and later threw his first interception of the season. He was the picture of calm compared to Matt Moore.

Moore mishandled the first two snaps he took after Coach Bob Toledo confounded onlookers by sending him in during the second quarter as planned despite an 89-yard touchdown drive directed by Olson the possession before.

Moore bobbled the ball on his first snap, then lost it on the second at his own 14, setting up yet another USC touchdown

"I knew Matt was going to come in sometime in the second quarter," Olson said.

"I was a little bit [surprised], just because we'd just gone [89] yards, we went down the field and I felt like we had some momentum going. I'd finally settled down. Obviously it was the coach's decision and that's it."

That's it for a lot of UCLA's players against USC.

Tight end Mike Seidman, like Manning, is a senior who will never know what it is like to beat USC after losing four in a row.

After the game, a tear slid down his cheek until he dammed it with his hand.

"It's just losing," Seidman said.

"We just couldn't believe what was happening. They beat us.... At least we kept fighting and trying."

At least there was that.

Nobody could say that a year ago, when the Bruins were blamed for basically giving up in a 27-0 loss.

"We knew we just weren't going to quit," Seidman said. "This is not a team that quits."

No one can say they did, especially after Moore and John Sciarra directed touchdown drives in the final minutes of what threatened to become the worst loss in the series by either team since a 52-0 UCLA loss in 1930.

Instead, it was merely the biggest since 1979.

"This team just doesn't give up," said freshman running back Tyler Ebell, held to a mere 56 yards after UCLA was forced to pass to try to catch up.

Bruin fans? Many of them didn't stay until the fourth quarter.

"You know, I was aware of that," Ebell said after UCLA fans began leaving in the third quarter and Trojan fans serenaded them with, "Nah-nah-nah-nah, goodbye."

The Bruin fans might have been trying to beat the traffic, but it was a day when the only way to beat it was probably to stay until the end.

"All I saw was red," Ebell said. "It's kind of upsetting to see all our fans leaving.

"It was tough. We came in and thought we could beat them, and we could have beat them. We had too many turnovers. That's what beat us.

"They're not as great as the scoreboard showed.... We beat ourselves."

Manning didn't withhold his praise, calling Carson Palmer the best quarterback he has faced along with Joey Harrington last season at Oregon,

"They've got some good receivers, and they outplayed us," said Manning, who was beaten badly by Keary Colbert on a 51-yard pass play for the second touchdown.

"It's sad. I just feel we have to move on."

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