UCLA Coach Terry Donahue felt like a mother with a new baby: proud and doting, but weary. It had been a long Saturday.
"This was like a 30-hour labor," he said. "We just couldn't get it born."
UCLA delivered a 28-25 victory over Stanford by controlling the ball for almost two-thirds of the game, sacking Cardinal quarterback Steve Stenstrom six times and getting 187 yards in a school-record 40 carries from a suddenly rejuvenated Sharmon Shah.
But before Donahue could celebrate his first victory of the season, the Bruins had to withstand the standard Stanford rally. After miracle finishes brought victories over San Jose State and Colorado, Stanford Coach Bill Walsh ran out of tricks. The 17th-ranked Cardinal, 2-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pacific 10, had the ball at its 27 at game's end after scoring a touchdown with 2:16 to play to tantalize a crowd of 53,700 that is becoming used to such things.
"Obviously, the problems were the turnovers," Walsh said. "UCLA played its best game of the year. We botched just enough plays to give them the victory."
The errors included a fumbled punt, which led to UCLA's first points, a 45-yard field goal by Bjorn Merten; a third-down sack that forced a punt and put the Bruins in business for another field goal, this of 22 yards for a 6-0 lead; an Ellery Roberts fumble that set up UCLA for a drive to a 16-7 halftime lead, Merten kicking a 20-yarder with two seconds to play; and a fumble that Marvin Goodwin returned 36 yards for a touchdown and a 22-10 lead.
There were others, a poorly thrown pass that Goodwin intercepted in the fourth quarter, for example, but Merten missed a 39-yard field-goal try after that, one of several mistakes the Bruins made. Enough mistakes to keep things close.
"I was happy we were able to score enough points to win," Donahue said. "I thought we squandered several opportunities to get points with blocked PATs or . . . inefficiency inside the 30-yard line. But all in all, I'm delighted."
"I'm not sure I've ever had a team that needed a victory more than this team did," Donahue said, enjoying a moment away from recent criticism and savoring a victory after two losses by a total of three points.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been as difficult. The Bruins had the ball for all but 2:48 of the opening quarter, but could show only Merten's two field goals for their efforts.
Stanford got going in the second quarter, Stenstrom withstanding a blitz and throwing over it to an open Roberts for a five-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead with 10 minutes to play in the half.
But UCLA got its offense going with Shah, who had talked Wednesday and Thursday of redshirting because of a congenital musculature problem in his legs that caused extreme pain. He spent time in therapy on Thursday and Friday and decided he was well enough to make the trip.
Donahue decided he was well enough to start, and, after some hints of what was to come in the first quarter, Shah got loose in the second. Mainly, he got loose for a 21-yard run during an 80-yard drive that was capped by Daron Washington's 13-yard touchdown run for a 13-7 UCLA lead.
That became 16-7 after Merten's third field goal, and Shah went into halftime with 123 yards in 21 carries. He also had sore legs, but adrenaline that built with each carry helped deal with the pain.
"We really needed this win, and I felt that if I could contribute that I would," Shah said. "I'm painful, but I feel good."
Stanford cut the margin to 16-10 on Eric Abrams' 27-yard field goal, but UCLA extended it on a defensive touchdown later in the third quarter. Stanford's Mike Mitchell took a pitchout around the left side, where he was met by Bruin defensive back Teddy Lawrence. Linebacker Donnie Edwards moved in to help, saw Lawrence had things well in hand and went for the ball, stripping it. Goodwin was there to recover and had no one between himself and the goal line.
But Merten's kick was blocked, and UCLA had drawn a 15-yard penalty for excessive zeal in celebrating the touchdown. The Bruins had to kick off from their 20, a prime spot for Walsh to go to a trick play.
Greg Comella took the kickoff at the Stanford 12, started upfield, then stopped and threw a left-handed pass across the field to Mitchell. He broke five tackles in going to the 49 and Stanford got 15 more yards when UCLA was called for a personal foul.
Stenstrom then threw to Brian Manning for a 36-yard touchdown that had some confused, including the officials.
The pass was called incomplete by back judge Richard Freitas, who was within five yards of the play, but side judge Laird Hayes overruled him.
"The side judge had a clear view of the play, saw him catch the ball with two steps in the end zone," referee Jim Sprenger said. "The back judge was partially screened and looked at the side judge, who signaled touchdown."
The play cut UCLA's lead to 22-17, but the Bruins came back with Wayne Cook finding J.J. Stokes open over Stanford's Vaughn Bryant for a six-yard touchdown with 12:32 to play. Again, Merten's point-after was blocked.
A Stenstrom-to-Justin Armour touchdown covered 30 yards and ended a 67-yard drive that took only four plays and 45 seconds. With 2:16 to play and UCLA trying to run the clock with running plays that no longer worked, and with Stanford's penchant for fast finishes, Donahue was worried.
"We're trying to learn to win, and we're not accomplished in it yet," he said.
Goodwin wasn't as worried. "We knew they were going for the (field goal) to tie," he said, "so we just played them deep."
The Cardinal took the ball on its 14 with 29 seconds to play and no timeouts. Five plays later, a desperation pass fell incomplete, and the Cardinal's string of miracles had ended.
So had UCLA's string of near-misses.
Through it all, the visage of Walsh tended to haunt, as though the coach could generate victory on his own. Not so, said UCLA linebacker Jamir Miller, who had three sacks.
"Coach don't make the runs," he said. "Coach don't make the tackles. All the coach can do is coach."
Donahue savored the victory.
"I don't think this victory takes us out of the woods, but I do think this: it helps me professionally," Donahue said. "I've coached against Bill four times now and am 2-2. And he's in the business, so maybe some of my critics have to consider me maybe not quite as bad as they thought."
* NO MIRACLES: Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom rallies the Cardinal but is unable to engineer his third come-from-behind victory in three weeks. C8