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Lobbyist can't stop UCLA win

November 16, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

SEATTLE — When the UCLA football players arrived at their hotel in Seattle, a man standing in the lobby -- presumably a Washington fan -- told them: "Go easy on our team. We need a win."

To which more than one of the Bruins replied: "So do we."

In a game between two programs struggling through difficult seasons, UCLA generated enough offense to prevail over the sorrowful Huskies, 27-7, on Saturday night.

"We're still alive," defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. "We got a victory."

The victory -- the Bruins' first in almost a month -- had several benefits.

It improved their record to 4-6, 3-4 in Pacific 10 Conference play, and saved them the embarrassment of losing to the only winless team in major college football.

More importantly, it sent them into an off week with slim postseason hopes still alive -- they can become bowl eligible by sweeping their final games against Arizona State and USC.

With an announced crowd of 59,738 at Husky Stadium, UCLA wasted no time proving that Washington has the statistically worst defense in the Pac-10.

The offensively challenged Bruins took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 12 plays with quarterback Kevin Craft completing several passes and freshman tailback Derrick Coleman finding room to run, bouncing outside for an 11-yard touchdown.

But Craft soon fell prey to familiar trouble. In the ensuing minutes, he twice threw to tightly covered receivers and had both passes deflected for interceptions.

The Huskies (0-10, 0-7) took advantage of the first turnover with a seven-yard touchdown run by tailback Brandon Johnson to tie the score at 7-7. The second interception went for naught, quarterback Ronnie Fouch fumbling at midfield.

This time it was UCLA's turn to convert, Kahlil Bell covering 31 yards in four carries, scoring from a yard out. And when Kai Forbath added a 49-yard field goal in the final minutes of the second quarter, the Bruins took a 17-7 lead into the locker room.

If this matchup lacked any significance in the standings, at least there was an interesting back story.

All week long, the media talked about Coach Rick Neuheisel's history at Washington, a stint that lasted from 1999 through 2002 until he was fired for participating in a college basketball pool. He subsequently filed suit against the school and the NCAA -- which had investigated the matter -- collecting a $4.5-million settlement.

"We all have regrets," Neuheisel said. "When you try to put all the pieces together and say, 'Should this have been settled in another way, shape or form?' the answer is yes."

Said Bell: "Knowing the history he's gone through with this university, we knew this was going to be a big game for him."

There had also been some talk of the weather, with showers in the forecast. In his Washington days, Neuheisel had considered the Pacific Northwest an ally against teams unaccustomed to playing in rain.

But Mother Nature tossed the Bruins a favor in the form of a high-pressure front that settled off the coast -- Saturday dawned sunny with high clouds, the forecast changed from wet to dry.

The second half began with more turnovers. Washington tailback Terrance Dailey fumbled in UCLA territory. Craft then lofted a short pass too long for his third interception of the evening.

But just when the quality of play seemed to be disintegrating, the Bruins launched another long drive. Backed up against the goal line, Bell ran four straight times to give his team breathing room and Craft followed with several key pass completions.

Ninety-two yards later, UCLA scored on another plunge by Bell, taking a 24-7 lead.

That was more than the Huskies could hope to overcome. Fouch threw another interception, which turned into a short field goal for Forbath midway through the fourth quarter.

The Bruins weren't about to take it easy on Washington. They needed the win.


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