By Tom Price Jr.
Flung from his hand with determination, UCLA quarterback Drew Olson launched a football into the throat of the Fresno State Bulldog defense.
This was the pass that was to keep alive their hopes of a Silicon Valley Classic Bowl victory and erase more than three quarters of offensive football that sent the few Bruin fans amongst the sea of red, home yearning for the days of Cade McNown.
This fateful pass never reached its intended destination. Deflected at the line-of-scrimmage, it fluttered into the air like a dying quail. With under three minutes remaining in the game Fresno State linebacker Manny Sanchez snatched it from the air and sealed victory for the underdog.
"It seemed like the ball was coming in slow motion," Sanchez said. "I caught it in the bread basket and took off running."
The Bulldogs would win their second consecutive Silicon Valley Classic with a 17-9 win over the Bruins of UCLA on December 30. A major victory for a program looking to establish itself as a national powerhouse and a major interception for the former Lindsay Cardinal trying to establish himself as an every down player for the Bulldogs.
"That play meant a lot," Sanchez said. "Most of the players on the team know I make plays, they tell me to go out and make a play. Hopefully next year I can come back and be a starter."
Sanchez, who by his own admission is still learning the position of linebacker after making the move from safety his freshman year, was a factor throughout the Bulldogs bowl victory.
In the second quarter he came untouched through the UCLA offensive line and forced an early pass from Olson that fell harmlessely to the ground. Later, early in the fourth quarter, Sanchez sprinted past UCLA blockers and drilled Bruin punt returner Craig Bragg. The former Lindsay quarterback and defensive back was not surprised by his performance, but the way the game unfolded, opened his eyes.
"I was more surprised with our offense, with the fast start and how we dominated the game in the first half," Sanchez said. "Just winning a game is hard to do, then to get UCLA, gosh, every kid in California wants to play for UCLA, [the win] really meant a lot."
A bowl victory over 6-6 UCLA isn't the end of the story for Sanchez and this Bulldog team. Sanchez is quick to point out that he is only a sophomore and Fresno State is returning 39-of-44 players on this team.
"We have a real young team right now, a lot of people who made big plays in that game are coming back," Sachez said. "If we have a good offseason and stay dedicated like we did last year we will have a great season and hit Washington full speed ahead."
The Bulldogs open the season next year against PAC-10 power Washington Huskies and report back as a team on Jan. 22, and begin to pave the road to what Sanchez hopes will be another bowl victory.