UCLA had to hang on to do it, but the Bruins beat archrival USC before a sellout crowd of 84,623 at the Coliseum Saturday and completed their first winning season in three years.
The Bruins’ 24-21 victory gave them an 8-3 record heading into New Year’s Eve John Hancock Bowl in El Paso against Illinois and left the struggling Trojans with a 3-8 mark.
It was UCLA’s first victory over USC since 1986 and the defeat marked the first time that the Trojans had lost six games in a row in a football season.
The Trojans, outmanned badly all year, were outmanned by the Bruins, too, but they hung on gamely and had the ball, fourth and five, at UCLA’s 38-yard line, with less than two minutes to play.
But then two transfers, Arnold Ale and Mike Chalenski, teamed to save the day--and in Los Angeles, the season--for the Bruins.
USC’s quarterback Reggie Perry went back to pass. Ale, a transfer from Notre Dame, circled the blockers, got to Perry, and stripped the ball. Chalenski, a transfer from Pitt, recovered the fumble, and even though the ball would have been the Bruins’ anyway, danced around the field with it in celebration.
USC got one last play after the Bruins had run down the clock, and Perry’s long pass fell incomplete, finishing a season of frustration for the Trojans symbolically.
The Bruins built a 17-0 lead on a controversial touchdown with 2:52 to play in the half, and they appeared to be set to coast into the locker room with that lead.
But USC, ineffective, listless and unimpressive, suddenly found some spark--possibly from the strange nature of the second Bruin touchdown--and marched 67 yards in seven plays to score and cut UCLA’s lead to 17-7. The Bruins had eaten up 9:38 of the second quarter with their scoring drive, and the Trojans had struck back with an answering touchdown in just 2:09.
USC’s touchdown. a strange play in a fairly strange game, went 13 yards to wide receiver Curtis Conway, who ran under Perry’s pass in the end zone. UCLA’s Dion Lambert, running face-to-face with Conway, never turned around as the ball descended into Conway’s arms.
Stranger yet was UCLA’s touchdown just a few minutes earlier. The Bruins had slugged away on a 90-yard drive and got to the two-yard line on the 12th play of the drive, Kevin Williams slashing off left tackle, cutting outside and getting caught just shy of the end zone.
Then the UCLA offense went like this:
--On first down, Williams took a pitch from Tommy Maddox and got zero around right end.
--Maddox tried an alley-oop play to Sean LaChapelle, but Calvin Holmes interfered with LaChapelle in the end zone for an automatic first down and the ball on the one.
--On first down, Kevin Smith was stopped for no gain.
--On second down, Maury Toy was stopped for no gain.
--On third down, the 17th play of the drive, Toy got the call again and headed over left guard. But he fumbled, and all hell broke loose.
USC players were jumping around, signaling toward the distant goal as if they had recovered the fumble. Then, soon, UCLA players were jumping around, signaling touchdown.
And the officials huddled, and huddled, and huddled.
Finally, after about five minutes had passed, the officials signaled that the Bruins had been awarded a touchdown. Later, the announcement was made that Toy had indeed fumbled, but that Brian Allen, the Bruins’ second-string tight end, had fallen on the ball in the end zone and was credited with the touchdown.
So an angry--and heretofore badly outplayed--USC team struck back, with the big play in its 67-yard drive a 30-yard pass to Larry Wallace, only Wallace’s fourth catch of the season. Wallace is now averaging more than 30 yards per catch.
UCLA’s first score established a record for the longest scoring run in the postwar version of this rivalry. Williams took an option pitch from Maddox, turned the right corner and outran everybody for a 72-yard touchdown.
UCLA had started the scoring with a 41-yard field goal by Louis Perez with 7:33 to play in the first quarter. Williams’ scoring run came five minutes later.
First-half statistics showed UCLA’s domination. The Bruins outgained the Trojans, 281 yards to 135, and Williams had 133 rushing yards by himself, compared to 47 for USC.
Williams finished with only 131 yards as the Trojans’ defense stiffened in the second half. Maddox wound up with 236 yards passing, completing 22 of 32.
USC got a great chance on the second-half kickoff, fumbled by Paul Richardson and recovered by Junior Moi. But the Trojans tried three line plunges, got nowhere, and tried a 28-yard field goal that J.J. Dudum kicked wide.
But USC got the ball back, Wallace got open and Perry hit him just as he was getting blasted in the pocket. Wallace stretched out, made the catch, held on as he stumbled forward and stayed upright until his knee touched down at the one-foot line. Perry scored the touchdown, hurdling over the line, and USC had cut the lead to 17-14.
Then it was Maddox’s turn. The star sophomore quarterback from Texas, who has had an up-and-down year while getting UCLA back on a winning track, passed for 68 of the 73 yards that the Bruins covered on an 11-play scoring drive that ended with Maddox hitting Toy over the middle on third-and-nine from the 17. That touchdown, and Perez’s extra point, pushed the Bruins’ lead back up to 24-14.
But as the third quarter ended, USC was right back threatening, in a game that continued to pick up momentum and started to feel like last year’s 45-42 USC victory at the Rose Bowl.
Perry had gotten the Trojans right back with a 38-yard pass over the middle to Johnny Morton, who caught the winning pass in last year’s game. That put the ball on the UCLA six, and, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Perry zipped a pass over the middle to tight end Yonnie Jackson, who made the catch between two UCLA defenders and cut the score to 24-21.
With a whole quarter to go.
But very little happened, and a game that had the potential to explode into drama faded into an exchange of punts, until UCLA pinned the Trojans at their four with six minutes to play.