By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
LOS ANGELES - They had run onto the turf Saturday with the same aspirations that they had when their season began.
They understood the task at hand and celebrated when things went their way.
But when Arizona couldn't score near its goal line twice during the third quarter in its 45-28 loss to Southern Cal at the L.A. Coliseum, it spelled the end to the Wildcats' dreams of spending early January in the Rose Bowl.
So quickly, high hopes had turned into heartbreak.
"Our goal was never to be the No. 1 team in the nation," UA coach Dick Tomey said afterwards. "We just try to win every week. Those expectations were put on us by someone else. Our goal was to win the conference and I think we were capable."
After five straight unsuccessful drives, the UA offense took over at the 14, thanks to a USC fumble forced by Jim Hoffman and recovered by Tedy Bruschi.
UA quarterback Dan White threw a 14-yard pass to Lamar Lovett who was just over the goal line to enable the Wildcats to tie the game 7-7 and awaken the offense from a nine-quarter scoring drought.
The scoring continued for the Wildcats (7-3 overall, 5-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference). They got touchdowns on a 36-yard perfectly timed pass to Richard Dice, a one-yard Ontiwaun Carter dive and another 65-yard short pass reception that turned into a sprint through USC's defense by Carter. But that was the end.
Three times, the Wildcats' seven-point leads were answered.
Carter was stopped just short of the goal line on a 43-yard run. A play later, White lobbed a pass to wide receiver Jeff Chiasson but the ball was too far and USC cornerback John Herpin made the interception.
"It was a rub route and the inside guy was supposed to go to the back of the end zone," White explained. "Now that I know what happened, I probably should have thrown the ball away. He was covered. I can't make mistakes like that."
Dice was supposed to be in on that play but his thigh pad had slipped down to his hamstring and he had to adjust it. After a magnificent day, he could only watch that play unfold from the sideline.
The Trojans (7-2, 6-1) responded with a 65-yard touchdown drive to put USC ahead 35-28 before Arizona got the ball back. But again, the Wildcats were shut down inside the five when Carter was stopped for a loss on fourth down.
From the 2, USC began a drive that saw quarterback Rob Johnson pass flawlessly before eventually
suffering an ankle sprain. Backup Brad Otton continued the Trojans on their 98-yard drive which ended in a touchdown, essentially finishing Arizona 42-28.
"This was not a great day for defenses," said USC coach John Robinson, stating the obvious. "The offenses took over the game. But the two stands by our defense were huge factors in the game. Neither defense played well, but ours was the one to derail the other side."
Carter became Arizona's all-time rushing career leader after the day with 3,432 yards. But he was a constant threat for USC out of the backfield and catching short passes.
"Everybody was keying on me," Carter said. "Put me out on the slot and I'll catch the ball. If I get the ball in my hands, I'll be a threat to the defense."
As long as it beats rival Oregon State, Oregon will be going to the Rose Bowl. If the Ducks lose that game and USC beats UCLA, the Trojans will be on their way to Pasadena.
For the third straight year, Arizona was eliminated from the Rose Bowl race in its 10th game.
The closest they may get to Pasadena is Anaheim, Calif. - the Pac-10's third place team gets to face a WAC team in the not-so-illustrious Freedom Bowl. However, the Wildcats are still awaiting a bowl invitation.
"I'm proud of the way our guys have fought so far this season," Tomey said. "I'm sure there are a lot of teams that would love to be 7-3, but right now that hasn't hit home. We only have the feeling that we didn't get the job done."
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