It seemed as if it would be Cal State Long Beach’s destiny to lose yet another game when Rocky Palamara of Cal State Fullerton caught a touchdown pass with 2:38 to play Saturday night at Veterans Stadium.
“We thought we were going to win it . . . everybody went crazy,” said Palamara, whose catch had given the Titans a 22-21 lead.
But in a dramatic switch of emotions, Long Beach won, 24-22, moments later when David VanSteenkiste kicked a 32-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
“A terrible feeling,” Palamara said as he watched the 49ers celebrate the end of their 9-game losing streak over 2 seasons, the longest in school history.
After Palamara’s touchdown, Mark Seay returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the Long Beach 45 and quarterback Jeff Graham then drove the 49ers steadily down the field. With a third and13 at the Titan 34, Graham hit Seay along the sideline for 22 yards to set up the winning kick.
“We said before they kicked off, ‘Let’s keep our composure,’ ” Graham said. “I looked at the offensive line and they had the confidence. The running backs knew we could do it.”
The 49ers (1-5 overall, 1-2 in the Big West Conference) got off to a 14-0 lead before a homecoming crowd of 7,582 and hung on until Andre Southerland’s fumble enabled Fullerton (2-5, 2-2) to mount its apparent winning drive with 4:19 left.
“I thought this couldn’t be happening,” Graham said. But once the final drive started, the quarterback said he saw an end to the futility that has marked the 49ers this season.
“We knew it was going to turn around, we just knew it,” Graham said.
Graham and Southerland hurt Fullerton early. A Graham-Brian Wiss pass for 32 yards and a 24-yard run by Southerland highlighted a 78-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Lafayette Shelton.
Stacey Alexander intercepted a Dan Spelts pass to set up the 49ers’ next touchdown--a 35-yard pass from Graham to Derek Washington, who made a leaping catch at the 4 and ran into the end zone to increase the lead to 14-0.
Fullerton got back into the game in the second quarter despite squandering touchdown opportunities deep in Long Beach territory.
After a bad snap forced punter Willie Lujan to throw an incomplete pass, the Titans moved from the Long Beach 35 yard line to the 3. But Michael Moore lost 5 yards on a run, and Dan Spelts threw an incompletion, forcing the Titans to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Stan Lambert.
Chris Wright intercepted Graham’s pass on the 49ers’ ensuing possession and returned it 19 yards to the Long Beach 12. The Titans got to the 7, then self-destructed again when Moore was stopped for no gain and Speltz threw an incomplete pass. Lambert kicked a 25-yarder to cut the lead to 14-6.
After Fullerton cut the lead to 14-12 on a 14-yard run by Moore in the third quarter, Graham hit Wiss for a 16-yard score.