Bruins Teeter but Hang On
They were practically jitterbugging on that mountain ledge this time, both feet flying over the lip as if on a dare, apparently having decided that merely sneaking a quick peek to check out the view far below was too blase by now.
The balancing act that had guided the UCLA Bruins thus far, through Tucson and Berkeley and a Pasadena overtime, gave way to something far more incredible Saturday, something that tempted fate even more and may have shown what theirs really is. The 28-24 victory over Stanford before 64,820 at the Rose Bowl has them convinced.
“Oh, yeah,” cornerback Marques Anderson said. “I think it’s a team of destiny.”
“Yes,” defensive lineman Travor Turner concurred. “I believe that.”
The winning score came from the injured running back who wasn’t even told until halftime that he would be pressed into duty. And then DeShaun Foster went in from the eight with 8:05 remaining to cap the comeback from the 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit.
The biggest defensive play--of their year? Their decade?--came from the injured member of the secondary who didn’t even know if he’d be able to play until 10 minutes before kickoff. And then Anderson raked the ball away from Stanford’s Jeff Allen when Allen was behind him, at the two-yard line and charging for the end zone to give the Cardinal a 30-28 lead with about 4:20 left.
Destiny’s child is a daredevil.
“I’m kind of in shock right now,” said center Shawn Stuart, fortunate enough to at least be a member of the winning team. “I don’t need these games anymore. I’m a fifth-year senior.
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s almost like looking and seeing that you’ve got an angel on your shoulder for football. But that’s what makes great teams.”
As opposed to, say, falling behind an opponent that came in as 28 1/2-point underdog, 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Pacific 10 and last in the conference in four statistical categories and next-to-last in another. The Bruins were averaging 43.5 points a game before kickoff and then struggled to score against the Stanford defense that had allowed at least 30 points in every game.
One UCLA touchdown was practically generated by the special teams, the blocked punt by Tod McBride and recovery by Joey Strycula at the Cardinal 33 in the first quarter having set up the first-play scoring run by Keith Brown. And the other touchdown from Brown, a two-yarder early in the fourth quarter, came on a drive of 36 yards, after the Bruin defense had pinned the Cardinal deep and the subsequent 19-yard punt return by Ryan Roques put the ball far in enemy territory.
One time, Cade McNown threw two interceptions on the same possession in the second quarter, saved the first time because Donnie Spragan fumbled during the return. That wasn’t the first sign of trouble, either. Jermaine Lewis, reinstated as the starting tailback this week, lasted only until the sixth offensive play for the Bruins before limping off with a bruised right calf, finishing him for the duration.
Back into the leading role went Brown, openly disappointed with his demotion after one bad game. He delivered two scoring runs and 94 yards in 15 carries, an impressive average of 6.3 yards, but he also couldn’t be expected to handle the job alone for 3 1/2 quarters. At halftime, Coach Bob Toledo made the move he didn’t expect to need.
Foster, out since suffering a sprained knee ligament two weeks earlier, and scheduled to miss at least one more game, had only practiced with the team three times in the days leading up to the Stanford game, and none of those were even with the Bruins in full pads. He dressed Saturday, brace and all, but was supposed to play only in case of an emergency.
“It was an emergency,” Toledo said.
Lewis was out. Brown was starting to wear down. It was a 14-14 game for the No. 2 team in the nation.
Foster carried nine times in the second half, jump-starting his cold body at intermission to gain 51 yards, including one run of nine and another of eight on consecutive plays to help set up Brown’s second scoring run. Then he capped the next UCLA drive by going over left tackle from the eight, getting a big hole and then, ultimately, the key block from Brian Polak, who had pulled from the right side and knocked back Marc Stockbauer as the Stanford linebacker tried to fill the gap.
“I kind of knew what I did when I made that block,” Polak said. “When I saw DeShaun go in the end zone, I just kind of jumped up. I was so excited. It was a big block.”
What he had done, it turned out, was clear the way for the winning points. Even if they almost didn’t turn out to be.
Stanford, driving again behind quarterback Todd Husak, who would finish 25 of 45 for 419 yards, had first down at the Bruin 27. Husak saw Allen get behind Anderson, then hit his target down the center of the field. Allen headed for the goal line.
Anderson headed for a special spot in Bruin history. Battling the turf toe on the right foot that had sidelined him all week and left him as doubtful to face the Cardinal, battling back after being on the wrong end of the play that appeared destined to end UCLA’s hopes for a national championship and its school-record winning streak at 16, he swung his right arm while chasing Allen from behind.
“The guy came out of nowhere,” Allen said.
“I knew I raked it,” Anderson said. “That was my intention.”
The ball popped out at the two, a no-touchdown call that sent the Stanford sideline into a rage but was clearly proved incorrect by television replays. Safety Larry Atkins recovered for the Bruins, Anderson also there just in case.
“I was amazed that he even played,” Toledo said. “To do what he did was remarkable.”
Said Anderson: “Luckily, it came out. Sometimes, that’s where your big plays come from. Luck.”
From anywhere and everywhere. These being the ’98 Bruins and all.
“We always know we can win,” Turner said. “This win tonight will keep us believing.”