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Powell’s big return leads Cal to win over Trojans

The Associated PressThe Associated Press
Monday October 30, 2000

LOS ANGELES – Jemeel Powell turned a couple of keen observations into big plays for California. 

Powell returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, then added an interception as Cal beat Southern California 28-16 on Saturday to hand the reeling Trojans their fifth consecutive loss. 

“They were not in punt coverage, but block coverage and I knew I would have a chance,” Powell said after Cal (3-5, 2-3 Pac-10) downed the Trojans (3-5, 0-5) for the third consecutive time. 

“Powell’s punt return broke our back,” said USC coach Paul Hackett. “We had opportunities to make plays and so did Cal. They did and we didn’t.” 

Powell said the Bears found they gave the Trojans’ receivers too much of a cushion early in the game and decided to pressure them more. He was in perfect position for his interception, when he leaped high above USC’s Kareem Kelly to grab Palmer’s long throw at the Cal 41 with 6:52 remaining. 

“I relied on my skills and, luckily, they threw to him and I had good coverage,” Powell said. 

Bears coach Tom Holmoe said, “Powell had a spectacular return and a key interception.” 

Cal’s defense sacked Palmer seven times and kept the Trojans off-balance most of the game. Andre Carter logged 2 1/2 sacks, had eight solo tackles and an assist, and Scott Fujita had two sacks. 

Kyle Boller threw for a pair of touchdowns as the Bears downed USC for the fourth time in their last five meetings. 

The Trojans, who had never started conference play 0-4 before this year, have lost five straight overall for the first time since 1991, when they had a six-game losing streak and finished 3-8. Head coach Larry Smith was fired a year after that season. 

USC was 3-0 and ranked No. 8 nationally this fall before their losing streak began. 

“It’s been an awful October,” said Hackett, whose record in two-plus seasons at USC fell to 17-16. “You cannot play raggedy special teams and expect to win in our conference; the teams are too good and too even. I’ve got to take the time to focus more on special teams.” 

Cal’s defense shut out USC in the second half, allowing the Trojans across midfield just once after they led 16-14 at halftime. 

After the Bears rallied to take the lead late in the third quarter, Powell gave them a 12-point pad with his spectacular punt return 2:55 into the fourth. 

He started to his right then sliced up the center of the field, as two Trojans desperately dived but only got their fingertips on him. 

Any real chance the Trojans had of catching up afterward evaporated when Palmer threw the two interceptions. USC also squandered another chance when it was called for an illegal substitution on a Cal punt with about five minutes remaining, giving the Bears a first down instead of a fourth-and-1 at midfield. 

Boller was 7-of-12 for 131 yards, with no interceptions. Joe Igber carried 28 times for 80 yards in the victory. 

The Trojans’ Sultan McCullough rushed for 122 yards on 15 carries, including a 32-yard touchdown. Palmer completed 19 of 39 passes for 202 yards and one touchdown. 

Cal’s Nick Harris set an NCAA career record for punting yardage, with his seven punts for 272 yards giving him 13,157 yards. Cameron Young of TCU had 12,947 from 1976-79. 

Boller threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Derek Swafford late in the third quarter and connected with Geoff McArthur for a 2-point conversion and a 22-16 lead. 

The Trojans had scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 2:11 of the first half to move ahead 16-14. They took the lead on John Wall’s 25-yard field goal 32 seconds before halftime, shortly after McCullough’s scoring run. 

Carter set up the Bears’ second touchdown, jarring the ball out of Palmer’s grasp on a sack at the USC 11 early in the second quarter. Daniel Nwangwu picked up the loose ball and ran to the 7 before he was tackled, then Joe Echema scored shortly afterward on a 1-yard run. 

Both teams scored on their first possession of the game. Boller threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Pipersburg, and Palmer responded with a 19-yarder to Chad Pierson.