Friday, December 13, 2002
Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
EL PASO, Texas -- Jamar Fletcher intercepted Scott McEwan's pass with a minute left Friday, preserving Wisconsin's 21-20 victory over UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
Fletcher, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back, stepped in front of Brian Poli-Dixon at midfield for his seventh interception of the season and his first big play in an afternoon filled with frustration.
He was in the middle of a pregame scuffle that cost the Bruins a 15-yard penalty at kickoff and the object of two taunting penalties by Freddie Mitchell, UCLA's star receiver who was selected the game's MVP after setting a Sun Bowl record with 180 yards on nine catches, including a 64-yard touchdown reception.
But UCLA quarterback Cory Paus reinjured his separated shoulder and the Bruins (6-6) blew a 13-point, third-quarter lead.
Brooks Bollinger threw two touchdown passes and Michael Bennett ran for a score and set up another with a 54-yard kickoff return as Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez improved to 6-1 in the postseason.
The Badgers (9-4) also beat the Bruins in the 1994 and '99 Rose Bowls, and the teams didn't even wait for the kickoff to show their dislike for each other.
UCLA tight end Bryan Fletcher, punter/kicker Nate Fikse and cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. scuffled with Jamar Fletcher during warmups.
Jamar Fletcher had called the Bruins soft after the Badgers beat them in the '99 Rose Bowl and he and Bryan Fletcher (no relation but high school buddies) had exchanged telephone taunts in the days leading up to the game sponsored by Wells Fargo.
Mitchell mocked Fletcher at the end of his 64-yard TD catch from Paus -- the first TD the junior had allowed in his college career, drawing another 15-yard penalty.
And Mitchell whacked Fletcher across the helmet on the Bruins' next possession with UCLA threatening again, and the Bruins, backed up another 15 yards by the personal foul, settled for Chris Griffith's 31-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.
DeShaun Foster, who had 100 yards rushing in the first half, carried five times for 30 yards on a six-play, 45-yard drive he capped with a 7-yard TD burst for a 17-7 Bruins' halftime lead.
The Bruins lost Manning (concussion) and fellow starting cornerback Jason Bell (ankle) in the first half. Backup Joe Hunter was beaten on Chris Chambers' 3-yard TD catch that made it 20-14 in the third quarter following a 25-yarder by Griffith.
Bennett's 6-yard run with 8:55 left capped a 12-play, 70-yard drive and gave the Badgers a 21-20 lead that Fletcher preserved with his last-minute heroics.
The Badgers needed just four plays to cover 80 yards and take a 7-0 lead on Bollinger's 54-yard TD toss to Lee Evans on the game's first series. But they struggled without right tackle Brian Lamont (knee) and kick returner Nick Davis, who was suspended for his role in a television theft.
Mitchell's nine catches tied the Sun Bowl record and his 180 yards receiving were 15 more than North Carolina's Octavus Barnes had against Texas in 1984.