In Sports from United Press International

Dec. 9, 2002 at 12:09 AM
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49ers earn playoff spot

IRVING, Texas, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The San Francisco 49ers joined the playoff parade Sunday and Cleveland improved its post-season chances in extra-dramatic fashion.

When it came to bizarre triumphs, however, the Houston Texans recorded one of the most amazing wins in the history of the NFL.

San Francisco captured the NFC West division title by rallying for a 31-27 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, joining the Green Bay Packers as the only teams to secure a playoff berth with three weeks left in the season.

The six post-season spots in the NFC are all but decided, however, with Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and Philadelphia likely to join the Packers and 49ers.

In the AFC, however, things are a long way from being settled.

Oakland took a one-game lead in the West Sunday by virtue of its 27-7 decision over San Diego and Tennessee gained control of the tiebreak advantage in the South thanks to a 27-17 victory over Indianapolis.

New England's 27-17 win over Buffalo put the Patriots a half game in front of Miami in the East pending the Dolphins game Monday night against Chicago. And Pittsburgh clung to a half-game lead over Cleveland in the North despite a freakish loss to the Texans.

Cleveland inched closer to the division lead when quarterback Tim Couch threw a 50-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown to Quincy Morgan with no time remaining to lift Cleveland to an improbable 21-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Wow," Browns Coach Butch Davis said. "Yeah, another day at the office. I don't really know what to tell you other than when you've coached 30 years you think you've seen everything. Obviously, you haven't."

Davis likely had not seen anything like Houston's win over Pittsburgh, either.

Pittsburgh gained almost 10 times as many yards as did Houston (422 to 47), had 24 first downs to just three for the Texans and owned the ball for almost two-thirds of the game.

But cornerback Aaron Glenn returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns and nickle back Kenny Wright added a fumble return for a score, helping Houston win consecutive games for the first time in its brief history with a 24-6 decision over the Steelers.

In the NFC, Tampa Bay shut down Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick to move 1 1/2 games in front in the South with a 34-10 victory. And Philadelphia stayed three games ahead in the East by defeating Seattle, 27-20.

Other NFL results: Carolina 52, Cincinnati 31; New York Giants 27, Washington 21; Kansas City 49, St. Louis 10; Arizona 23, Detroit 20 in overtime; New Orleans 37, Baltimore 25; New York Jets 19, Denver 13; Green Bay 26, Minnesota 22.

Iowa heads to Orange Bowl

MIAMI, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Iowa accepted a bid to play in the Orange Bowl Sunday, leaving the Rose Bowl without its traditional Pac 10-Big Ten matchup for the second straight year.

With Miami (12-0) and Ohio State (13-0) already set to meet for the national championship on Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl, the remainder of the Bowl Championship Series pairings were determined Sunday.

Miami secured its date in the title game Saturday with a 56-45 win over Virginia Tech that extended the Hurricanes winning streak to 34 games.

Third-ranked Iowa (11-1) had anticipated playing in the Rose Bowl, but the Hawkeyes will instead head to Miami and face fifth-ranked Southern California (10-2) in the Orange Bowl.

"We have a Big Ten and Pac-10 meeting," said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. "I think everybody knows that with the BCS, some traditions have been broken, but it's still a Big 10 vs. Pac-10 matchup."

USC made its case with a 44-13 dismantling of Notre Dame on Nov. 30. The Trojans finished fourth in the final BCS standings, guaranteeing them an at-large berth.

No. 12 Notre Dame (10-2), due to its national appeal and ability to sell tickets, had been mentioned as a candidate for a berth in the BCS. But the Fighting Irish landed in the Gator Bowl for a game against North Carolina State.

Each BCS team receives about $13 million, which is split among conference members. As an independent, Notre Dame would have kept all its money. The Gator Bowl, by contrast, has a payout of $1.6 million.

No. 7 Washington State (10-2) clinched the Pac-10 Conference title and a berth in the Rose Bowl with a 48-27 victory over UCLA. With Iowa out of the mix, the Rose Bowl settled on eighth-ranked Oklahoma (11-2), which defeated Colorado, 29-7, in the Big 12 Conference championship game.

The champions of the Pac 10 and Big Ten have met in the Rose Bowl through the years, but that tradition ended last season when Miami and Nebraska met in Pasadena to determine the national champion.

Fourth-ranked Georgia (12-1) is headed for the Sugar Bowl after it defeated Arkansas, 30-3, in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Saturday night.

Notre Dame shocks Texas

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Freshman Torin Francis scored 21 points Sunday as Notre Dame surprised No. 2 Texas, 98-92, in the championship game of the BB&T Classic.

Notre Dame (8-1) has defeated three straight top-10 opponents for the first time in school history and tied a school mark by beating three top-10 teams in one season.

The Fighting Irish began their run against No. 10 Marquette on Monday, then upset No. 8 Maryland, 69-57, in the first round of this tournament Saturday.

Deginald Erskin's layup gave Texas (5-1) an 83-78 lead with 4:02 remaining, but Notre Dame responded with a 12-0 spurt. Danny Miller's three-pointer gave the Fighting Irish a 90-83 lead with 1:21 left.

Miller and Matt Carrolls scored 20 points apiece for Notre Dame while Chris Thomas added 19.

Sydmill Harris scored a career-high 25 points for Texas.

Notre Dame became the first team other than co-hosts Maryland and George Washington to win the BB&T Classic since Massachusetts in 1995.

No. 9 Florida, the only other top 10 team in action sunday, defeated South Florida, 68-52.

Red Wings win in overtime

DETROIT, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Rookie Henrik Zetterberg scored 1:59 into overtime Sunday night, giving the Detroit Red Wings a wild 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues.

Defenseman Chris Chelios had a goal and an assist for the Red Wings, who extended their unbeaten streak to five games (4

1) and their lead over St. Louis atop the Central to three points.

The game was tied at 2-2 late in regulation before the teams traded crazy goals to send the game to overtime.

Chelios broke the tie at 17:08 when his slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle near the boards hit the stick of Blues defenseman Christian Laflamme and dipped between goaltender Fred Brathwaite's legs.

It was the second goal of the season for Chelios, who had gone nine games without a point, the second-longest drought of his illustrious career.

Just 40 seconds later, rookie Petr Cajanek tied it at 3-3. His shot from the point was headed wide of the left goalpost, but goaltender Curtis Joseph redirected the puck into his own net with his stick as he tried to push it to the corner.

Other NHL results: Boston 4, New York Rangers 1; Edmonton 3, Atlanta 0; anaheim 3, Nashville 0; Chicago 3, Tampa Bay 1.

Christie carries Kings past Spurs

SAN ANTONIO, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Doug Christie had 16 points, nine assists and eight steals Sunday night as shorthanded Sacramento outclassed San Antonio, 104-80, for its sixth straight win.

Despite being limited to eight healthy players, including three not with the team last season, Sacramento tied an NBA record for fewest turnovers in a game, committing only three. The Kings are 18-5, just 1 1/2 games behind Dallas for the league's best record.

Guard Mike Bibby, swingman Hedo Turkoglu, forwards Peja Stojakovic and Lawrence Funderburke and forward-center Scot Pollard all have missed large chunks of the season with injuries.

On Sunday, the Kings had to begin the second half without All-Star forward Chris Webber, who hurt his left wrist bad enough to have x-rays.

That was no problem for Christie, who sparked Sacramento with his playmaking and defense. He helped facilitate the offense, which saw five players score at least 16 points.

On defense, Christie played the passing lanes on defense and repeatedly turned steals into easy buckets at the other end. The Kings enjoyed a 27-8 edge in fast-break points and ran away from the slower Spurs in the second half.

Other NBA results: Portland 104, Toronto 91; Memphis 102, Phoenix 94; Los Angeles Lakers 110, Utah 101.

Harrington holds off Woods

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Padraig Harrington overcame a late double bogey Sunday to hold off Tiger Woods and win the Target World Challenge.

Harrington walked off with $1 million in the tournament hosted by Woods.

Harrington, ranked eighth in the world, began the day with a six-stroke cushion but needed almost all of that lead as he shot a 1-under-par 71 at Sherwood Country Club.

The Irishman nursed his lead after a double bogey at the par-4 14th hole, but finished with a 72-hole total of 20-under 268. Woods was second at 18-under 270, good enough for $500,000.

Harrington was forced to the bathroom before hitting his approach to the 14th green. His second shot, from an area under repair, ended up going through a fence off a hill to the left of the green.

Harrington's next shot came up short of the green, but he got up-and-down for double-bogey, which gave him the confidence he could hold a one-stroke lead over the final four holes.

Everyone in the 16-player field collected at least $130,000, including PGA champion Rich Beem, who was last at 1-over 289. Davis Love III was third at 272, a stroke ahead of Bernhard Langer of Germany and Colin Montgomerie of Scotland.

Portland wins NCAA soccer title

AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Christine Sinclair's second goal came in the second overtime period Sunday, giving Portland a 2-1 victory over Santa Clara for the NCAA women's soccer championship.

Santa Clara took the lead in its bid to win the national title for the second straight year, but Sinclair, a member of Canada's national team, tied it in the 61st minute on a field made slick by day-long rains.

Her game-winner came on a rebound of her own shot.

Portland came into the 64-team tournament as the No. 8 seed and became the lowest seed to win the national crown.

Report: Bure out for the season

NEW YORK, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The New York Daily News reported Sunday that New York Rangers left wing Pavel Bure will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

The report said Bure tore his left ACL midway through the second period of Friday's 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Bure left Friday's game and did not return, but the Rangers would not confirm the report, saying only that an MRI taken Saturday remains inconclusive.

The team did issue a statement Sunday saying that Bure suffered a torn medial meniscus in his left knee and a Grade I MCL sprain. The Rangers said Bure's estimated return will be determined after he undergoes an arthroscopic procedure at a future date.

Bure tore cartilage in his right knee during a preseason game with the New Jersey Devils and underwent surgery on Sept. 26.

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