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THE COLLEGES : Cal State Fullerton Faces Pacific and the Memories of Last Season’s Loss

Times Staff Writer

The things Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy was saying this week, he could say any week, and mean them.

It’s just that this week he’s a bit more emphatic.

“We have to play hard, do the right things, hang on to the football and not have penalties,” Murphy said.

Why all the earnestness?

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Fullerton is playing its first home game of the season today, against the University of the Pacific at 1 p.m. at Santa Ana Stadium.

And when these teams met last season, Fullerton outgained Pacific by 305 yards.

But the Titans also:

--Fumbled six times, losing three.

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--Threw three interceptions.

--Committed 16 penalties, a school record.

--Missed a 26-yard field goal.

--Dropped a pass in the end zone.

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You want self-destruction? This was a textbook case.

One other thing--little wonder--Fullerton lost, 22-14.

“We deserved to lose that game,” Murphy said. “And we certainly did.”

There was more at stake than one game against Pacific.

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With that loss, Fullerton earned the distinction of being the only Big West Conference team that Pacific has a winning record against (7-6).

With that loss, Fullerton threw away a chance to finish alone in second place in the conference. Instead the Titans were mired in an all-but-meaningless four-way tie for second.

With that loss, Fullerton ended its chances for a winning season. The Titans beat Montana the next week in the final game of the season to finish 6-6.

Think anyone at Fullerton is talking about that game?

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“You don’t have to remind them of last year,” Murphy said. “A.J. Jenkins remembers it. Jerry Leggett remembers it, and he was only in the stands.”

The bottom line is clear. So what if Pacific is 0-3? So what if Pacific has been picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big West?

“We can’t take anybody for granted,” Murphy said. “Who the heck am I kidding? Looking back at my nine years here, we’ve rarely been in the comfort zone in the fourth quarter.”

Fullerton’s defense, in particular, had to prepare for Pacific, the only team that runs a wishbone offense in the pass-oriented Big West.

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“We have to do a great job against it,” said Bill Wentworth, a Titan defensive coach. “Any time you play against a wishbone, you’re playing assignment football. Defensive players have to go away from their instincts. One has the pitch, one has the quarterback. A player might see the ball right in front of him, but he’s got to shuffle off.”

There have been some indications that Pacific would stray from the wishbone this season. In three games Pacific has completed 33 passes, only 14 fewer than it completed all last season.

But sophomore Ron Beverly has replaced senior Jason Frost at quarterback, and the Tigers seem to be back to the running game, even though they might also use a one-back passing attack.

This is an important game for Fullerton (1-2), which is trying to stay unbeaten in the conference and have its first winning season since 1985.

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It’s something of a down year for the Big West, and the Titans have a favorable conference schedule. They won at Nevada Las Vegas, and will face Pacific, Fresno State, San Jose State and Utah State at home.

Fullerton’s remaining conference road games are against the conference’s lowest-rated teams, Cal State Long Beach and New Mexico State.

Titan Notes

Greg Koperek, who played at Edison High School, is Pacific’s leading tackler with 52, an average of more than 17 a game. There’s only one problem: Koperek is a safety. If he is making that many tackles, Pacific isn’t stopping many plays near the line of scrimmage. Koperek also returns punts. . . . Fullerton injury report: In addition to tailback Michael Moore (knee) who is out indefinitely, defensive lineman Alex Stewart (knee) and offensive lineman Kevin Bernell (knee) are out for the Pacific game. Linebacker Bill Bryan (ankle) is possible.

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