One thing USC could ill afford in the final game of its forgettable season was its two biggest rivals conspiring against it.
But that’s what happened Saturday at the Coliseum.
The play of the game in UCLA’s 24-21 victory over the Trojans was made by junior linebacker Arnold Ale, a transfer from Notre Dame who sacked Reggie Perry to end the Trojans’ last threat.
It was fourth and five for the Trojans at UCLA’s 37-yard line, less than 80 seconds remaining, when Perry, who had rallied USC from a 17-0 deficit and seemed to have the Trojans moving toward another score, looked up and saw split end Johnnie Morton streaking up the right sideline.
Morton had his man beaten.
But Perry was soon on his back, the ball on the ground.
He never saw what hit him.
Ale, streaking in untouched from the left side, belted Perry from behind as the sophomore from Denison, Tex., set up to throw.
The ball popped loose, as did Perry’s helmet.
Another transfer, defensive end Mike Chalenski from Pittsburgh, ignored the helmet, fell on the ball for UCLA and preserved a victory that ended a four-game winless streak for the Bruins against the Trojans.
“I had the tackle man on man,” said Ale, who reportedly wanted to transfer to USC when he left Notre Dame two years ago, but was told by Irish Coach Lou Holtz that he wouldn’t be released to join the Trojans. "(I saw) a hole inside that was so big, and I was going to take it at first.
“But I knew Reggie Perry was a good scrambler, so I made a fake inside and (the lineman) bit, and I went outside.”
The play seemed to typify the season for both teams.
UCLA, rebounding from consecutive seasons of 3-7-1 and 5-6, ended its most successful season since 1988 with an 8-3 overall record, a 6-2 record good for a three-way tie for second place in the Pacific 10 Conference and a bid to play Illinois in the John Hancock Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
USC, meanwhile, wrapped up a 3-8 season, its worst since 1957, with a school-record six-game losing streak. The Trojans were 2-6 in the Pac-10, good for eighth place, and lost five of six games at the Coliseum.
USC is 1-7-1 at home since Oct. 6, 1990.
“We needed a win (over USC) very badly,” UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said, ignoring the Trojans’ plight. “Obviously, not having won in four years, it was vital that we get over that psychological hump.
“Our team is thrilled.”
The Bruins enjoyed a statistical edge, piling up 404 total yards while giving up 335, and appeared on their way to a lopsided victory when tight end Brian Allen fell on a fumble in the end zone to give UCLA a disputed touchdown and a 17-0 lead with 2:52 left in the second quarter.
UCLA’s second possession resulted in a 41-yard field goal by Louis Perez and, later in the first quarter, tailback Kevin Williams scored on a 72-yard run, believed to be the longest in a 61-game series that dates to 1929.
But after Allen, following a long delay, was ruled to have recovered a fumble by teammate Maury Toy, who lost control of the ball on a third-and-goal dive from the one-yard line, USC seemed to come alive.
Perry, seemingly on the verge of being pulled, brought the Trojans quickly back down the field, completing a 30-yard pass to Larry Wallace and ending a 67-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Conway.
It was only his second touchdown pass of the season.
Then, in USC’s second possession of the second half, Perry completed another long pass to Wallace, this one covering 34 yards, to set up another touchdown, this one scored by Perry on a one-yard dive.
UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox, his team suddenly threatened, then staged a rally of his own, completing five of six passes for 68 yards during a 73-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard scoring pass to Toy.
It was Maddox’s first touchdown pass in 16 quarters, a period of futility during which he had nine passes intercepted.
Toy said later that Maddox, who completed a season-high 22 of 32 passes for 236 yards, had asked him repeatedly through the first half if he had been getting open underneath the Trojans’ coverage. He told Maddox he had.
“We’ll come back to it,” Maddox had told Toy.
When the Bruins did, Toy beat USC linebacker Matt Gee, took a poorly thrown pass from Maddox and carried the ball into the end zone.
UCLA’s lead was 24-14 with 18 1/2 minutes to play.
Perry brought USC back again, this time connecting with Morton on a 38-yard pass to set up a six-yard scoring pass to tight end Yonnie Jackson.
On first and 10 at UCLA’s 42-yard line with little more than two minutes remaining, Perry’s pass somehow slipped through the hands of UCLA linebacker Randy Cole, who seemed to have a sure interception.
“I thought I blew a big opportunity,” Cole said. “And I thought, ‘If we lose, I’m just going to have to go out and shoot myself.’ ”
Ale saved him.
Two runs by tailback Estrus Crayton, who carried 21 times for 126 yards in his first start, netted only five yards, leaving the Trojans in a situation where they would almost have to throw on fourth and five.
USC called a timeout with 1:19 left to discuss a play.
“We weren’t sure it was going to be a pass,” Donahue said, “but the pressure of the game kind of makes you pass there.”
Perry never got a chance.
USC Coach Larry Smith said that somebody missed an assignment, leaving Ale free to come after his quarterback unimpeded.
But Perry said: “Maybe I waited a little too long in the pocket. That’s what you’re told not to do as a quarterback--never get caught with the ball in your hand on fourth down.
“I could have thrown it straight up in the air and we would have had a better chance of making a completion.”
USC’s J.J. Dudum missed two field-goal attempts, a 45-yarder in the second quarter that was short and wide to the left, and a 28-yarder in the third quarter after UCLA’s Paul Richardson fumbled the kickoff to open the second half, USC recovering. A walk-on, Dudum was filling in for the Trojans’ regular kicker, Cole Ford, who was sidelined by a hip injury.
A first-quarter interception by UCLA cornerback Carlton Gray was his 10th of the season, a school record. . . . UCLA’s Sean LaChapelle caught five passes for 94 yards, finishing the regular season with 68 receptions for 987 yards and 11 touchdowns, all school records. . . . UCLA’s Kevin Williams ran for 131 yards in 21 carries, ending the regular season with 1,089 yards rushing.
* PHANTOM TOUCHDOWN:
Reserve tight end Brian Allen saves the day for UCLA when he reaches into a crowd of Trojans to recover a fumble in the end zone to score a touchdown that gave the Bruins a 17-0 lead in the first half. C6
* DROUGHT ENDS: The Bruin victory, their first over USC since 1986, is a joyful occasion and, perhaps, one of relief for UCLA Coach Terry Donahue. C6
* OPPORTUNITY LOST: A chance to answer his critics escapes USC quarterback Reggie Perry when he is sacked and fumbles in the final minutes. C6