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'The best feeling in the world'

Fletcher's interception secures Wisconsin's rosy win

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Posted: Saturday January 02, 1999 12:06 AM

  Jump start: Coach Barry Alvarez thinks Jamar Fletcher's (2) interception return helped bring back Wisconsin's rhythm AP

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- When the ball floated into his hands, Wisconsin freshman cornerback Jamar Fletcher saw Rose Bowl glory ahead.

"There was just daylight. I knew I was going to score. There was no way anybody was keeping me out of the end zone. No way," Fletcher said.

"This is the best feeling in the world. I have never felt anything like this ever."

He returned the interception 46 yards for a touchdown with 14 minutes left Friday, securing the Badgers' 38-31 Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.

Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said it was the key play in a game in which tailback Ron Dayne carried 27 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns.

He was one yard shy of a Rose Bowl record.

"We were struggling," Alvarez said. "We had a nice rhythm and all of a sudden we lost it. The touchdown brought it back. To answer in a shootout is very important."

The Bruins cut the lead to 31-28 after a 79-yard drive and forced UW to punt. Fletcher then snared an under-thrown pass by UCLA's All-American quarterback Cade McNown.

"He is awesome. He's just our play maker," safety Jason Doering said.

Dayne averaged nine yards a carry, despite playing with a painful shoulder. He ran 54 yards for Wisconsin's first touchdown.

"That was our plan, to run on them all day," the 253-pound cannonball said. "When I got that first touchdown, I wasn't going to stop."

Wisconsin's defense, ranked No. 1 in points allowed this season, saved the day against the sixth-ranked Bruins' impressive offense.

Just two days earlier, Fletcher assured defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove not to worry about the team's young secondary, which includes two freshmen and a sophomore.

"When I told the coach that he didn't have to worry about it, I meant it," Fletcher said. "People were thinking these receivers were better than they really were. The Pac-10 defenses this year weren't that good. I thought our team was better than all the Pac 10 defenses."

The interception was Fletcher's third for a touchdown this season, breaking a UW record of two set in 1949.

McNown said he made a bad decision in throwing the pass.

It was McNown's only interception in a game in which he completed 19 of 34 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns.

UCLA gained 538 yards total offense, compared with ninth-ranked Wisconsin's 497. Wisconsin finishes 11-1 and UCLA 10-2.

"We unfortunately made one mistake more than they did and that cost us the game," Bruins coach Bob Toledo said.

Defensive end Tom Burke, a senior leader for Wisconsin, said Fletcher seemed nervous in the first half.

"If you throw enough his way, I guarantee you he is going to get a pick,' Burke said. "He knew we needed something like that and he just brought it to the house."

Fletcher credited the Wisconsin fans in the crowd of 93,872 for giving the team a boost. About 60 percent of the seats seemed filled with people wearing school-color red.

"The crowd was just into it," he said. "They made all the noise in the world. They helped us a great deal."

Fletcher, who also had four tackles and was credited with breaking up four passes, promised he wouldn't rest on his laurels.

"I have a lot of things to work on. I think I will get a lot better," he said.

 
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