PLAY OF THE GAME: FLETCHER'S ROLE IS NOTHING NEW.
It figures the NCAA's leader in interceptions this season would have a hand in impacting Friday's Rose Bowl game.
In fact, Wisconsin redshirt freshman cornerback Jamar Fletcher had two hands involved in the Badgers' 38-31 upset of UCLA in front of 93,872 fans.
Fletcher's 46-yard interception return for a touchdown with 14:08 remaining broke open a close game and proved to be the difference as Wisconsin handed UCLA another Rose Bowl defeat.
``I think I helped this team out a little bit this year,'' said Fletcher, who finished with seven interceptions this season, including a school-record three returned for touchdowns. ``But this entire defense is a team thing and not just about individuals.''
But no freshman - or defensive back for that matter - in Wisconsin history has had the impact of Fletcher, who broke Bob Radcliffe's school record for interceptions returned for touchdowns, set in 1949.
Still, Fletcher didn't allow himself to get caught up in his heroic moment.
``(The interception) had a pretty big impact,'' Fletcher said, ``but with a team like UCLA, they have the ability to score in one play. It didn't really mean anything because we had a lot of football to play.''
But it did give the Badgers the lead for good at 38-28; the Bruins managed only a field goal the rest of the game.
It was the first interception returned for a touchdown against UCLA since last season's Cotton Bowl when Texas A&M's Dat Nguyen and Brandon Jennings, using a lateral along the way, combined for an 83-yard return.
On the play Friday, UCLA quarterback Cade McNown, out of shotgun formation, felt the pocket closing fast as Wisconsin's John Favret and Ross Kolodziej came in from the right and left sides, respectively, on a third-and-9.
``I think all that played a big role in it,'' Wisconsin defensive end Tom Burke said of the pressure. ``Fletch played his man well, came back on it and scored a touchdown. Once he caught it, I just thought, `I need to find someone to block.'''
Fletcher stepped in front of UCLA running back DeShaun Foster, who flared out of the backfield and ran up the right sideline. McNown said he thought Foster would come back for the ball.
``When I dropped back, the corner was way off DeShaun and I was throwing it to hold him up,'' McNown said. ``DeShaun kind of kept running and the guy made a play on it. DeShaun's not wrong for doing that. I wish I had the throw back. I just expected him to come back and he didn't.''
Foster said by the time he realized the ball was even thrown, Fletcher already had read the play and ducked in behind him.
``I don't know if Cade had pressure or anything, but I know he released the ball a little early,'' Foster said. ``I couldn't stop in time to get back to it.''
Once he made the catch, Fletcher had an open field in front of him.
``The ball just came right in my hands,'' Fletcher said. ``It was clear sailing from there and I thought if I didn't score it would have been a real shame.''
The only block Fletcher needed came from linebacker Bob Adamov down near the goal line.
``When I saw Jamar make the interception, I turned upfield and he had the angle,'' Adamov said. ``The only guy coming was McNown and I was able to block him.''
Adamov wasn't surprised it was Fletcher making the play, considering the St. Louis native did the same thing in back-to-back games this season against Purdue and Illinois.
``He's a big-play guy and we don't expect anything less in this game,'' Adamov said. ``He came through once again.''
PHOTO Wisconsin's Jamar Fletcher (2) returns an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Michael Caulfield/Associated Press
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 2, 1999|
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