USC pre­vails in a wild game to gain some re­venge af­ter 11 years


The 43-yard field goal sailed through the up­rights and the Coli­seum was filled with screams of joy, shrieks of won­der and over­pow­er­ing sighs of re­lief.

Eleven years af­ter USC lost a lead, a game and a mon­u­men­tal mo­ment to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, it al­most hap­pened again Satur­day night at the Coli­seum.

But it didn’t. Not here. Not now. This time, the Tro­jans avoided heart­break, steam­rolled over his­tory, and hooked ’em.

This time, the Tro­jans sur­vived and stayed up­right in their un­beaten sea­son with a 27-24 two-over­time vic­tory

over Texas on a night filled with equal parts ter­ror and tri­umph.

Ter­ror in that they nearly blew it. Tri­umph in that they ended up steal­ing it.

“We gave it all we had, they gave it all they had,” USC quar­ter­back Sam Darnold said. “It was just a great win for our guys.”

If the 2006 Rose Bowl was the great­est col­lege game ever, as many have pro­claimed, then this lon­gawaited en­core was the great­est ugli­est and drama-filled game of this sea­son.

It was USC hold­ing a 14-10 lead through most of the sec­ond half. It was a last­minute Texas drive to swipe the lead with 45 sec­onds re­main­ing. But then, with no time­outs, it was Darnold com­plet­ing three long passes to three dif­fer­ent tar­gets to drive the Tro­jans 52 yards to set up the ty­ing 31-yard field goal by Chase McGrath, the first field goal of the fresh­man’s col­lege ca­reer, as the clock ticked zero.

“So proud of them that when the lights were their bright­est, they ex­e­cuted,” USC coach Clay Hel­ton said.

Now it was over­time, and now it re­ally got wild. It was an open­ing-play, 25-yard touch­down pass from Darnold to Deon­tay Bur­nett on the first play of the ex­tra pe­riod. But then it was the Longhorns re­spond­ing with a three-yard pass from Sam Eh­linger to Cade Brewer to tie it up.

“The plays down the stretch by Sam and Deon­tay, I don’t know if I’ll ever for­get that in my life,” Hel­ton said.

In the sec­ond over­time, Chris­tian Rec­tor stripped Eh­linger of the ball and Ajene Har­ris re­cov­ered it. This was the steal­ing part. Then it was USC’s turn, and the Tro­jans gained only one yard but it was enough to set up McGrath’s game-win­ning field goal.

So, yeah, fi­nally, USC sur­vived Texas. Fi­nally, the Tro­jans, now 3-0, en­dured their stum­bles, over­came their con­fu­sion and willed their way home. On this night, fi­nally, the Tro­jans were the ones danc­ing.

Will this af­fect the fourthranked Tro­jans in those rank­ings? It shouldn’t. Texas is a power con­fer­ence team that clearly plays pow­er­con­fer­ence foot­ball, and the Tro­jans kept Texas out of the end zone un­til the fi­nal minute of reg­u­la­tion..

Should this worry Tro­jans fans about their chances of stum­bling in their re­main­ing nine games, five of which are on the road be­gin­ning at Cal­i­for­nia next week­end? Well, um, maybe a lit­tle.

Un­til the fi­nal minute and over­time, Darnold was hav­ing trou­ble com­mu­ni­cat­ing with his re­ceivers, just like in the sea­son opener against West­ern Michi­gan. He threw for three touch­downs, but also had two in­ter­cep­tions. Then there were the strug­gles

of the three run­ning backs, none of whom gained more than 50 yards or scored.

It was, in all, a breath­tak­ing end­ing to a mostly un­sightly night. The Tro­jans stum­bled. The Longhorns tripped. The Tro­jans swung and missed. The Longhorns ducked and fell.

The Tro­jans gained more yards, but also did it more painfully, with six dropped passes, three failed fourth­down con­ver­sions, two in­ter­cep­tions, a missed field-goal try, and an al­lowed touch­down on a 38-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn.

All of which makes the win­ning much sweeter, ac­cord­ing to Hel­ton, who cer­tainly hopes the watch­ful play­off com­mit­tee agrees.

“That’s what great teams do,” Hel­ton said. “They have one of th­ese games and they find a way to win.”

This was never more ev­i­dent than on the last play of the first half, on a play whose willpower res­onated the rest of the game.

The Longhorns were ap­par­ently con­tent to run into the Coli­seum tun­nel in a stun­ning half­time tie. Yet, the Tro­jans had one more breath and were de­ter­mined to use it.

And so, in the fi­nal ticks of the first half of a messy night, USC’s will turned dread­ful into spec­tac­u­lar.

Darnold scram­bled right. Ron­ald Jones II was wide open down­field. Darnold found him with a laser around the Texas 35-yard line. The Longhorns, who had just been hang­ing out, sud­denly paid at­ten­tion, but it was too late.

Jones sprinted left around des­per­ately scur­ry­ing de­fend­ers, Steven Mitchell Jr. threw a huge block, and Jones dashed into the cor­ner of the end zone for the com­ple­tion of a 56-yard touch­down pass.

The clock read 0:00. But the score­board was a lit­tle more full, read­ing 14-7 Tro­jans, and their ex­cited dash into the locker room was as in­spired as the play.

“There’s go­ing to be days like th­ese,” Hel­ton said. “You have to fight to win games.”

On a cool night with a nearly full Coli­seum in front of an­other mar­quee pro­gram, it was al­most as USC had to first get rid of a lit­tle stage fright.

Vince Young was stand­ing on the Coli­seum side­lines, a haunt­ing vi­sion from that 11-year-old heart­break. Nearby stood Matthew McConaughey, wav­ing two fin­gers, re­mind­ing his team that ev­ery­thing would be all right, all right, all right. (Sorry, couldn’t re­sist). Next to him was Roger Cle­mens, star­ing down with the heat.

But in the end, it was the Tro­jans who brought that heat.

“Ugly wins count too,” Hel­ton said. “We’re for­tu­nate to walk out of here with one.”

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