After 59 minutes 45 seconds, it came down to one play.
The University of San Diego, trailing Occidental College, 20-16, before 2,800 screaming fans at USD’s Torero Stadium, had the ball on fourth down at the Occidental 7, with 6 yards to go for a first down. After two timeouts, USD quarterback Brandon Murphy leaned over center.
Murphy took the snap, rolled right and threw a low pass toward Ken Zampese, who was darting to the right sideline. Zampese dove and came up with the ball, but an official ruled it had hit the ground first.
Incomplete. Occidental held on to defeat USD, 20-16, improving to 5-1. USD is 3-3.
“There’s no question I caught it,” Zampese said. “It was just a question of whether I got my hands under it in time. The referee was behind me when he made the call.”
Said USD Coach Brian Fogarty, “I think it hit the ground.”
Murphy agreed. “From my view, I didn’t think he caught it. But it shouldn’t have been a question. I should have gotten it to him in his chest.”
Two plays before that, Murphy delivered a ball to the chest of Ken Jones in the back of the end zone, but Jones was bumped and the ball popped out.
Occidental led, 20-14, after the first half, and the score remained that until 4 minutes 13 seconds remained in the game. Occidental, trapped deep in its own territory, had punter Jeff Bedell step out of the end zone for a safety.
USD got the ensuing punt at its 45-yard line and began the final drive.
Occidental quarterback Tony Werbelow completed 13 of 16 passes for 148 yards in the first half as the Tigers built their lead. Werbelow finished 17 of 22 for 176.
On their first possession, the Tigers drove 66 yards in 14 plays, running 7 minutes off the clock before the drive stalled at the USD 3. Mark Collingsworth kicked a 22-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
USD came back with a 41-yard drive and 7 points as Virgil Enriquez made a spectacular, over-the-shoulder catch in the back of the end zone. On the play, Murphy dropped back, looked left, then threw across the field to the far right corner of the end zone.