Fresh­man’s field goal ends an­other thriller for Tro­jans, ’Horns

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Zach Helfand

Col­lege foot­ball has, some­how, sur­vived more than 11 years with­out USC play­ing Texas, and Satur­day night it was a won­der any­one could live that long with­out it. The matchup has pro­duced heroes and de­spair, iconic fin­ishes and a life’s worth of sto­ries.

Deep into an­other wild Los An­ge­les evening, it gave us Chase McGrath, a walk-on fresh­man kicker from New­port Beach, star­ing down 43 yards in dou­ble over­time. In the third field goal at­tempt of his ca­reer.

His first one had missed. His sec­ond one had saved USC and sent the game into over­time.

His third whizzed into

the night and through the up­rights, and No. 4 USC de­feated Texas 27-24 in a game that fried nerves, de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions and, again, lived up to the might of two of col­lege foot­ball’s most sto­ried pro­grams.

Moments ear­lier, Texas was on the doorstep when de­fen­sive line­man Chris­tian Rec­tor ripped the ball free from Texas quar­ter­back Sam Eh­linger near the goal line. De­fen­sive back Ajene Har­ris pounced on the ball and held it aloft like a tro­phy.

All USC needed was a field goal. The of­fense didn’t make it easy. Af­ter­ward, the team chanted McGrath’s name in the locker room. Then, cen­ter Nico Falah said, his team­mates yelled, “Give him a schol­ar­ship.”

“What an un­be­liev­able job,” coach Clay Hel­ton said.

Satur­day was not quite a reprise of the clas­sic 2006 Rose Bowl. USC (3-0) was an over­whelm­ing fa­vorite. Texas (1-2) is no longer a power.

In fact, the game was a woozy, stag­ger­ing mess. If the game were a friend, you’d call it a cab and send it home to sleep it off.

There were six turnovers. There were more drops, for USC, than a bad techno song. There was a suc­cess­ful Texas fake punt, called back for an un­nec­es­sary hold­ing flag. There were ques­tion­able play calls, two more USC in­ter­cep­tions and a slew of in­juries. There was a rash of penal­ties. There was USC’s odd game man­age­ment at the end of the first half and wasted time­outs in the sec­ond half.

There was USC run­ning back Ron­ald Jones II, who ad­mit­ted af­ter­ward that he wasn’t sure how over­time worked. He found out. USC never trailed un­til near the end of reg­u­la­tion, and its de­fense had given up only three points, when Texas mounted a late drive.

On a fourth and 10, the game on the line, Eh­linger hit Ar­manti Fore­man over the mid­dle, a yard past the sticks. A play later he rolled out and found Fore­man again, wide open in the end zone to go ahead 17-14. It was a 17-yard pass at the end of a 91-yard drive. Only 45 sec­onds re­mained. Again, Texas had bro­ken USC’s heart.

There was a ma­jor dif­fer­ence from 2006, how­ever. This time, USC had Sam Darnold.

It was not the sopho­more’s best game. He still mounted a sig­na­ture drive. Start­ing from USC’s own 35-yard line, with­out time­outs, Darnold com­pleted a pass to Deon­tay Bur­nett. First down. Darnold com­pleted a pass, jump­ing, de­fend­ers in his face, to Stephen Carr. First down. Darnold com­pleted a pass to Stephen Mitchell, all the way into the red zone. First down.

“He’s that good,” safety Chris Hawkins said of Darnold. “He al­ways finds us a way.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever for­get in my life. It was the best two-minute drive I’ve ever been associated with,” Hel­ton said.

With time ex­pir­ing, USC turned to McGrath, whose col­lege field-goal ex­pe­ri­ence boiled down to one at­tempt, missed, in the first half from 46 yards.

But McGrath made the 31yard kick to send the game into over­time.

Darnold and Bur­nett con­nected on the first play of over­time from 25 yards to give the Tro­jans the lead. Texas re­sponded with a three-yard touch­down pass to Cade Brewer to send the game into its sec­ond over­time.

Darnold fin­ished 28 of 49 for 397 yards, three touch­downs and two in­ter­cep­tions.

USC had mostly con­trolled the play for much of the game. The Tro­jans out­gained Texas 468 yards to 366. But mis­takes zapped the rhythm from both teams. The game be­gan lurchy, like two au­to­matic teams sud­denly stuck with stick shifts.

On the first drive of the game, the Tro­jans went for it on fourth down. They failed.

On the sec­ond drive of the game, the Longhorns went for it on fourth down. They failed.

On the third drive of the game, the Tro­jans tried, once again, on fourth down from the one-yard line. Again, they failed.

And then, more non­sense. Texas’ very next play ended in an ac­ro­batic Jack Jones in­ter­cep­tion. USC went back­ward and punted. Texas fum­bled, and USC re­cov­ered. McGrath missed a field goal.

Near the end of the half, Bur­nett added a touch of the sub­lime into the dis­jointed first half with an­other full ex­ten­sion div­ing catch for a touch­down, his sec­ond such play in two games. He fin­ished with eight re­cep­tions for 123 yards and two scores

With 30 sec­onds left in the half, USC could have taken a knee, con­tent to emerge out of the slop with a 7-0 lead. In­stead, Hel­ton de­cided to gam­ble. He let Darnold loose.

Darnold hit re­ceiver Jalen Greene square on a cross­ing route. Greene tipped the ball into the air for USC’s fifth drop of the half. DeShon El­liott plucked it just above the grass and went 38 yards for the score.

Again, with 10 sec­onds left, Hel­ton could have or­dered Darnold to take a knee, to avoid fur­ther catas­tro­phe. Again, he let Darnold loose. This time, Darnold found Jones camped in a yawn­ing pocket va­cated by Texas’ pre­vent de­fense. Jones needed one cut­back and one crush­ing block from Steven Mitchell Jr., and he had a free path to the end zone.

The ac­tion in both halves, it turned out, was at the very end. Who would ex­pect any­thing less when USC meets Texas?

SAM DARNOLD, get­ting off a pass in the first quar­ter, helps USC de­feat Texas.

Pho­to­graphs by Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

USC RE­COV­ERED when Texas’ Sam Eh­linger, left, fum­bled. USC’s Rasheem Green also fights for the ball.

USC COR­NER­BACK Jack Jones in­ter­cepts a pass in front of Texas’ Devin Duver­nay.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.