The chance Cal State Fullerton wasn't supposed to have was right there in front of the Titans in the fourth quarter Saturday night.
Fresno State's Bulldogs, undefeated this season--undefeated in their past 13 games, in fact--had a seven-point lead over Fullerton. But Fullerton added a chapter to a legacy of bungled opportunities, killing their own chances with a penalty-ridden defensive series that ended in a Fresno touchdown and a 33-19 Big West Conference loss in front of 32,135 in Bulldog Stadium.
After trailing, 26-3, in the third quarter, Fullerton scored two touchdowns, both times going for the two-point conversion, and both times making it. After the second successful conversion, the Titans had cut the lead to 26-19 with 9:21 left in the game.
The Titans then forced Fresno to punt, but were held on four downs themselves.
On the next possession, Fullerton backed Fresno into a fourth-and-three situation and the Bulldogs set up to punt.
But Fullerton's Darrell Bruce ran into the kicker, giving Fresno an automatic first down. As if that weren't enough, punt receiver Nuygen Pendleton was penalized for signaling a fair catch and then returning the kick, adding an extra five yards to Fresno's windfall.
The Titans nursed the Fresno State drive along with repeated penalties--including a personal foul call on second-and-27 that gave Fresno another first down. Fresno finally scored on Aaron Craver's 14-yard run with 2:25 remaining.
With that, Fresno won its 14th consecutive game, breaking a school record set in 1960-62, and Coach Jim Sweeney had his 150th career victory.
Afterward, Coach Gene Murphy said Fresno is "definitely" a top 20 team.
"We played a hell of a football team," Murphy said. "You can't take anything away from Fresno State. They are the best football team we've played to this point."
But there was complaining from Fullerton about some calls--including a fumble on Fresno's final scoring drive that the Titans' Terry Tramble covered. Officials ruled that the runner was already down.
"I'm going to look at the films, of course," Murphy said. "But I really think there were poor calls. We'll find out because (the camera) doesn't lie."
Sweeney said the fumble recovery was on his sideline.
"The first official saw a Fullerton player reach for the ball and assumed they recovered it. But the the referee saw (a Fresno player) recover it."
Mike Pringle, who finished with 116 yards rushing, also complained.
"It was flagrant bad calls in my opinion," he said.
But aside from the early and late going, Fresno State dominated, out-gaining Fullerton, 408 yards to 238.
Fullerton quarterback Dan Speltz was sacked 10 times, six times by Ron Cox.
"I don't think I've ever seen a football player dominate a game like Ron Cox did tonight," Sweeney said. "He was in Speltz's face all night."
It was a game that figured to be high-scoring. Fresno State came into the game averaging 42 points a game and Fullerton was scoring 27 a game.
Oddly, however, Fullerton led, 3-0, after the first quarter.
For the fifth game in a row, the Titans scored on their first possession, this time settling for a 42-yard field goal by Phil Nevin. The drive was thwarted--as many others would be--by a sack by Cox, the Fresno State outside linebacker who is one of 14 finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
Fullerton (3-4-1, 2-2) had other chances in the first half, many of them served up by Fresno State.
Mark Barsotti, the Bulldog quarterback, threw an interception on Fresno's first play of the game, giving the Titans the ball at their own 29. But Fullerton wasted the opportunity, losing 14 yards in its next three plays and had to punt.
Fullerton intercepted Barsotti twice more in the first half, but didn't score either time.
Fresno didn't drive deeper than the Titan 24 in the first quarter, failing to score when Steve Loop missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt.
By the second quarter, Fresno State had gathered itself, however and scored three touchdowns, two on sustained drives and the third after the Bulldogs recovered a fumble at the Titan 18 caused--how else?--by another Cox sack.
Myron Jones' plowed into the end zone after a swing pass on the next play. The point failed, leaving the score, 20-3, at halftime.
Tight end Bill Brennan tore ligaments in his knee and is out for the season. . . . Receiver Mark Hill suffered a shoulder injury in the first half and did not return. . . . Mike Pringle pulled a muscle and missed several plays. "He played with pain," Coach Gene Murphy said.