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COTTON BOWL: USC 55, TEXAS TECH 14 : Southwest Team Simply Goes South : Texas Tech: Even Red Raiders’ mascot provides a lowlight during 55-14 loss to USC.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What kind of day was it for Texas Tech’s black-and-blue Red Raiders?

Their best defensive stand of the day, holding USC to minus nine yards on a drive late in the first half, still resulted in a field goal by Cole Ford.

Their fans erupted in approval when, just after the Trojans had scored their fourth touchdown of the opening quarter, Robert Johnson downed the kickoff in the end zone for a touchback, thereby at least delaying the next disaster.

Their mascot, Raider Red, got into a brief scuffle with members of the USC band when their paths crossed just before halftime. Raider Red was escorted up the tunnel and temporarily benched, apparently until Phillie Phanatic, Joe Bruin, the Phoenix Suns’ Gorilla and the other members of the mascot leadership council cleared him of further disciplinary action. “The police took the mascot to cool off,” came the official-sounding announcement in the press box. “He will return in the second half.”

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And then there are their dreams. Well, let’s say their dreams of providing strong representation for the beleaguered Southwest Conference, of taking advantage of a rare chance to play on a national stage, were never more than just that.

USC 55, Texas Wreck 14.

“You try to look past it and say at least we were here,” Red Raider defensive end Byron Wright said, “but, really, we can’t say anything. We’ve got to just go home and think about it. And sleep.”

This Cotton Bowl, on a chilly Monday, will be their nightmare. The 578 yards of total offense given up, the most in the 59-year history of the game. The 34 points surrendered in the first half, more than their final five regular-season games combined. The 21 USC points in a span of 76 seconds in the first quarter.

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USC drove a knife deep in the heart of Texas Tech.

“Of course it’s an embarrassment to the school,” said tailback Byron Hanspard, whose 36 yards made him the most productive Red Raider on the ground. “We went out and didn’t play to their best of our ability and they set records on us. It’s an embarrassment for the team and for Texas Tech.”

Added middle linebacker Zach Thomas, the leader of the defense: “I’m just gonna go home and stay inside for about a month. But don’t feel sorry for me. I just feel sorry for our fans.

“We lost all the respect, the little we had.”

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Thomas is right about that. Texas Tech was the SWC’s guest host for the game, here with a 4-3 league record only because Texas A&M;, clearly the best team, was ineligible for the bowls. The Red Raiders, 6-5 overall at kickoff, had all the credibility of a supermarket tabloid.

Then they came here, looking for the respect they felt lacking in their own town, Lubbock, and then planning to work up to the rest of the state.

“It’s disappointing for this to happen in a big game you’ve looked forward to for so long, that you’ve cherished for so long,” Coach Spike Dykes said. “It’s disappointing to play so poorly. It really is. Disheartening is the word, I guess.”

Among others.

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“Going into a big game like this, everyone was very excited,” quarterback Zebbie Lethridge said after completing 12 of 29 passes for 134 yards. “I feel at times we were too hyper. As the game went on, we settled down, but it showed on the field they wanted it more than we did.”

Not more than 30 yards away, in the USC locker room, cornerback John Herpin contemplated the day and delivered a blow as severe as his two interceptions: “I’m sure after this game, people are not going to think as highly of the Southwest Conference.” Around these parts, that would be considered piling on.

Texas Tech is left with the future, which is more than can be said for the SWC as it heads into its final football season before disbanding. The Red Raiders get a trip to Penn State and a home game with Texas A&M; within the first four weeks of the 1995 schedule.

Pleasant dreams.

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