It seemed as though the choices were clear for UCLA Saturday: Either the Bruins would beat Washington to keep their faint New Year's Day bowl hopes alive, or they would have the Huskies mush all over them, forcing them to dip into a smaller bowl.
But what the heck happens with a tie?
"Probably, we are a little less attractive than we were before the game," UCLA Athletic Director Pete Dalis said.
On a cold, gray, breezy day, UCLA lost some of its allure by turning ugly just long enough to complicate what had been a very straightforward bowl situation.
The Bruin defense, which had been the best part of UCLA's game until needed most, allowed Washington to drive nearly the length of the field in the last minute and a half and come away with a 17-17 tie.
Jeff Jaeger kicked a 27-yard field goal as time ran out, and the Huskies escaped what had looked like certain defeat. Only moments before, with 1:29 to go, UCLA's David Franey had put the Bruins ahead, 17-14, with a 42-yard field goal.
Franey, who had missed a 45-yarder in the swirling wind on the Bruins' previous possession, changed his tactics on his second kick. He allowed for the gusts to carry the ball from left to right, which is exactly what happened.
"I thought I was kicking the game-winner," Franey said.
Only he wasn't. As it turned out, the Huskies moved 84 yards, cramming 14 plays into that last 1:29 to come out with a field goal that earned them a tie.
What else it earned them is debatable, but clearly Washington's record of 7-2-1 doesn't look nearly as good as 8-2 would have.
The Huskies could have gone for the win since they had advanced the ball to the UCLA nine-yard line with 11 seconds left, but Washington Coach Don James, whose team had failed on two attempts to score from the nine, defended his field-goal strategy.
"We felt that after we had gone that far, we wanted to give our offense every opportunity to win, but we didn't want to come up empty," James said after his first tie in 12 years at Washington. "As bad as a tie is, it's still better than a defeat."
This is also the way the Bruins must look at the outcome. Or is it?
"It's the equivalent of a loss," defensive tackle Frank Batchkoff said.
So now the Bruins seem to be in bowl limbo. If they beat USC next Saturday, they'll finish 7-3-1, which could be Sun Bowl quality, and a loss would drop them to 6-4-1, which is probably something along the lines of the Freedom Bowl.
What kind of ring does the Freedom Bowl have?
"I'm pretty indifferent to it," Batchkoff said.
It's clear that this 17-17 tie dredged up a lot of mixed feelings for the Bruins, and that's probably the way it ought to be. There were certainly enough mixed signals.
The defense came up with six turnovers but turned only one of them into points.
Gaston Green rushed for exactly 100 yards, but he averaged fewer than three yards a carry and did not score a touchdown.
Franey kicked what appeared to be a game-winning field goal, but he also had one attempt blocked and missed a third.
Matt Stevens threw one touchdown pass and ran 25 yards for another touchdown but wound up completing only 8 of 21 passes for 96 yards, with 1 interception. He also threw a bad pitchout to Green that the Huskies recovered and turned into their first touchdown.
Stevens had insisted earlier in the week that he would be the goat if UCLA did not win, but what does a tie make him?
"Sore," he said, gently touching the bandage that covered his right arm and wrist. He had been brutally sacked early in the fourth quarter when Washington's Tony Zachary rammed into his right elbow.
"I thought he was out of the game," UCLA Coach Terry Donahue.
Stevens returned but threw only four more passes the rest of the game and just two in the Bruins' 13-play drive that resulted in Franey's apparent game-winning field goal.
Said Donahue, of the UCLA drive: "We wanted to bleed the clock with running plays, put the ball in the middle of the field, leave as little time as possible and kick the winning field goal. We did all that."
Well, not quite. They did everything but the last part.
The Bruins had stuffed Washington's offense all day. Make that almost all day.
"You've just got to find a way to keep people from driving the length of the field on you," Donahue said.
Of the two touchdowns the Huskies scored, one came after linebacker David Rill landed on the fumbled pitchout from Stevens to Green that tied the game at 7-7. The second resulted from a freak play on a kickoff after UCLA had taken a 14-7 third-quarter lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Stevens to Derek Tennell.
Alfredo Velasco kicked the ball on a low trajectory, and it hit a Washington player and the Huskies recovered on their own 47. Three plays later, Vince Weathersby was in the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run .
Donahue said Velasco was only following instructions.
"The kick was supposed to go directly down the field, but one of the Huskies didn't get out of the way," he said. "But it was not a mistake. It just hit the guy."
How the Bruins played defense on that last, fatal drive by the Huskies might also have been a mistake.
"We were playing them a little soft," said strong safety Craig Rutledge, which means that the Bruins were giving the Husky receivers too much room.
Washington began its drive on the seven-yard line, and on second down, Chris Chandler completed a 26-yard pass to flanker Darryl Franklin, who cut over the middle and stepped out of bounds at the Husky 40.
Perhaps the play of the game came on second down, after an incompletion. Chandler passed eight yards to tight end Rod Jones at the sideline, where Carnell Lake ran him out of bounds and also slapped his forearm against Jones' helmet.
The Bruins were penalized 15 yards for a personal foul. Quickly, the Huskies had a first down at the UCLA 37 with 53 seconds left.
"They have really good receivers, but they also got a lot of help from the referees on that penalty," Batchkoff said.
Chandler, who finished with 18 completions in 35 attempts for 193 yards, hit Franklin again on the same pass play that began the drive. This time, the pass went for 13 yards as cornerback Chuckie Miller played back a little too far.
Washington moved to a first down and goal at the nine in two more plays, and from there Chandler took two shots at the end zone, but neither pass was caught. So, James decided to go for the tie.
Maybe a tie was destined, the way the game progressed in the early going. After a scoreless first quarter in which both teams combined for four first downs, the Bruins got a break early in the second quarter.
Darryl Henley's 20-yard punt return put UCLA on the Washington 32. From there, it was all Stevens. Air Matt stayed on the ground. Stevens gained seven yards on a keeper. Then, on second down, he faked a pitchout to Green, and while Washington's Tom Erlandson stayed with Green, Stevens ran 25 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Bruin lead.
But the Huskies came right back when Stevens threw a pitchout too far behind Green, who fumbled the ball at the Bruin 19. Weathersby dove across the goal on a fourth and one to tie the game at 7-7.
That is how the half ended, although UCLA failed to capitalize on a pair of Husky mistakes.
In the first quarter, Rutledge recovered Tony Covington's fumble at the Husky 42, but Franey's 40-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Brian Jones recovered a fumble at the Bruin 43 on the Huskies' first possession of the second quarter, but UCLA got six yards in three plays and punted.
"We squandered a few opportunities," Donahue said. "We did force some turnovers, but we didn't put enough points on the board. We needed one more."
The Bruins went ahead, 14-7, in the third quarter, but this time it was the result of yet another Washington turnover. Rutledge intercepted a Chandler pass that was tipped by Ken Norton and returned it five yards to the Washington 31.
A 12-yard run by Green and a 9-yard run by Marcus Greenwood kept the drive alive. On third-and-goal from the 10, Stevens threw to Tennell for the touchdown and a 14-7 UCLA lead that lasted only a few plays after the ill-fated kickoff.
So the Bruins wound up with a tie, a result they neither wanted nor expected, but something they have nonetheless. Now, they must learn to make the best of it. That is what Donahue is trying to do.
"We should be an attractive selection for a bowl game," he said. "When we play, we give everybody their money's worth and nobody leaves early.
"I think we'll go to a nice bowl game," Donahue said. "But I just don't know what a tie does for us."