Wildcats Find the Way to Lift Bruins' Spirits

Times Staff Writer

In the moments after UCLA lost to USC at the Coliseum Saturday afternoon, nothing else mattered to the Bruins.

It was a very quiet locker room.

They had self-destructed. Fumbled away three sure scores. What's to say?

They had blown the chance to make history by being the first UCLA team ever to beat USC four straight, and they had blown the chance to earn their own way into the Rose Bowl game.

They were in no mood to speculate on the longshot possibility that Arizona might upset Arizona State to give them the berth by default.

When they left the Coliseum, the Bruins expected to be playing their next game against Arkansas in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego Dec. 22 as the runner-up in the Pac-10.

A few hours later, after Arizona had upset Arizona State to put UCLA in the Rose Bowl--for a fourth straight New Year's Day bowl game--Bruin Coach Terry Donahue said he was "stunned."

"I know Larry Smith (the Arizona coach) and I are good friends, but this is going too far," Donahue said. "We played so hard today and we were so disappointed after the game that to get a second chance like this is just unbelievable.

"I'm just so happy for our players. They were devastated after the game, and I couldn't say anything to make them feel better. Maybe this will make them feel better."

After the USC game, when the Donahue "hope meter" was not registering too high for the upset that would take Arizona State out and make UCLA the conference champion, Donahue had said, "You always want to have hope, but that's not the big issue with us right now. We wanted to beat USC."

UCLA finished the regular season with an 8-2-1 record. Not bad considering the schedule and the start. Not good considering the recent expectations.

Not good knowing that they should have won that last all-important game.

UCLA took the opening drive and went lickety-split down the field, only to have fullback Mel Farr fumble the ball away 20 yards from the goal line.

UCLA was ahead, 13-7, and centering the ball for a field goal with about 40 seconds left in the first half when tailback Gaston Green fumbled the ball away on the 15.

And early in the fourth quarter, tailback Eric Ball was doing his beautiful up-and-over the line dive into the end zone when he just popped the ball up into the air.

USC's Marcus Cotton plucked it out of midair for what was called an interception.

That's no way to win a ballgame.

Ball said that he wasn't even hit. The football wasn't knocked loose, either. He just lost control of it.

"I don't think you can say that we were fumbling the ball because we were tight," Ball said. "I didn't feel like we were tight. I don't think you can ever really explain a fumble."

Donahue said, "You never know why you turn the ball over. Why did USC fumble last week against Washington? Sometimes you want to win too badly.

"The fumbles were a cause of our loss, but no more so than an interception or a couple of dropped passes. You can't put it all on a fumble going into the end zone."

Then there was the fact that the Bruins were getting short on linebackers as the game wore on. Fifth-year senior Tommy Taylor, for example, was on the sideline with a pulled muscle in his leg when the Bruins made their last big stand and, eventually, let the Trojans score the winning touchdown.

"I really thought that we would stop them there," Taylor said. "I thought we played very well against them.

"I know there will be a lot of whooping and hollering on the part of the USC players. But I know this: Defensively, we got 'em. I know I gave it all we had. We stuffed 'em."

So much for a last little show of spirit.

The last few stragglers were leaving the locker room when John Lee finally hoisted his bag on his shoulder and headed for the door.

Lee had finally, after four years of working at it, broken the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. record for most regular-season field goals in a career. He kicked two against the Trojans to boost his total to 79, breaking the record set by Luis Zendejas of Arizona State.

"This is not the way I pictured it," Lee said. "I had wanted to break the record against USC . . . I was feeling pretty good in the first half."

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