The Husky tailback had been suffering all week from intense head cold pressure and plugged ears. Then his nose started bleeding, and while along the sideline he finally collapsed and fainted.
Beno came to a few minutes later, and was faced with a trainer who suggested that he sit this one out. But there was so much riding on this colossal showdown with the 8th-ranked California Golden Bears. Both team were undefeated, and this game meant everything for securing the inside track to the Pac-10 Championship and the Rose Bowl.
Washington was 5-0 and possessed one of a possible 59 first place votes in the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll.
In a recent interview with Dawgman.com, Beno Bryant recalled what that memorable afternoon was like.
"It was tough. It was real hot. Cal was ridin' high and the team was hitting... I was sick, and I felt heavy."
With 2:30 left in the first quarter, Bear QB Mike Pawlawski hit Sean Dawkins with a 59-yard TD strike to put the home team in the lead 7-0. It was the first touchdown surrendered by the Husky defense in 10 quarters of football, and this one came against Washington's best cornerback – Dana Hall.
Washington didn't blink, however, and countered immediately with a 35-yard touchdown completion from Billy Joe Hobert to Mario Bailey to tie things up. The game was extremely physical with both teams bringing the lumber and sky-high intensity right at each other. The raucous Berkeley crowd of 74,500 helped fuel the Bears on.
Both teams traded field goals, before a 9-yard touchdown run by Jay Barry enabled the Dawgs to take a 17-10 lead into the locker room.
Despite his ailments and the stifling heat, Bryant had a moment of appreciation during the first half for the scene before him.
"The crowd was really into it and very loud... There was a hill overlooking the stadium that had people sitting up there. And I couldn't understand all of it, but the students were chanting something like this:
"You know the story,
Something something something,
You're in Bear territory!"
"And I was like, `wow, this IS college football'", recalled Bryant.
When I followed that up by telling Bryant that the hill he mentioned is referred to as "Cheapskate Hill" by the fans that sit up there for free, he laughed heartily.
The intense battle resumed in the second half. As Cal's offense approached the line of scrimmage for the final play of the third quarter, one of the most memorable punch-counterpunches in Husky history unfolded. Like a bolt of lightening, Bear running back Lindsey Chapman took a handoff and flashed up the middle, racing 68 yards untouched for a seemingly momentous touchdown.
I was told later by a friend of mine who is a Cal alum and avid Bear fan, "When Chapman broke free, we just knew that we had you guys!"
Now entering into the final quarter the Bears and their fans were sky high. His God Brother, Sean, who was seated near the Husky bench, caught Beno Bryant's attention.
"He was shouting `it's your turn, it's your turn.'"
"You just watch," replied an exhausted Bryant, confident of his team's ability to bounce back.
Suddenly the looming appearance of a Husky lineman came up to Bryant.
"Ed Cunningham grabbed me off the bench and threw me back onto the field."
Three plays later it was 3rd and 11. Bryant took a handoff on a draw play and zipped up the middle through a gaping hole in the Cal line, created by Cunningham and company. About ten yards downfield, Bryant encountered a Cal defender but veered off to the right and was past him and suddenly flying at warp speed down the sideline untouched for six points.
The home crowd reacted like it had been walloped in the collective midsection by a Steve Emtman right hook. Bryant gave all the credit to his lineman.
"When you have a hole like that, there's no excuse to get caught!"
Placekicker Travis Hanson converted the PAT and the Huskies now led 24-17. But as Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus would say, "it was now hang on time."
Both teams raged back and forth through the final 13:00 of the game. Beno Bryant wasn't the only one fighting to stay tough amid the demanding circumstances. He could see the toll that the slugfest was taking on the Bears' defense.
"We saw it in their eyes, in their faces… They were at the top of the mountain, but could they climb over?" said Bryant.
It came down to a classic few nerve-racking moments at the close of the game. Bear QB Pawlawski had driven his team to the Husky 23 with :08 showing on the clock. After two arching passes barely fell incomplete, a penalty was accessed to both sides. Fittingly, there would be one final heave into the end zone.
Washington's undefeated season lay in the balance.
Pawlawski dropped back to pass and lofted a well-placed ball into the left corner of the end zone. Bryant watched from the sidelines.
"It may not have looked like much on TV, but from the sideline Walter Bailey's vertical leap had to be about 20 feet! He really got up there, and knocked the ball away."
Washington had held on in a classic Pac-10 battle, and prevailed 24-17, to run its record to 6-0.
Cal fans still talk about that game to this very day, with much mutual respect and appreciation.
Derek Johnson can be reached at email@example.com
Beno Bryant Remembers '91 Classic vs. Cal
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