Saturday was college football at its best
A banged-up Leinart made a series of gutsy calls with the Trojans trailing in the fourth quarter, including a 61-yard audible pass to Dwayne Jarrett on fourth and 9 in the winning drive that gave the Trojans a first down at the Notre Dame 13. Leinart opted to run the ball when he couldn’t find receivers on first and goal from the 2 and was hit short of the goal line. The play would have ended the game — and, in fact, the clock drained to 0:00 while officials huddled to correct the call — had the ball not popped loose at the end of Leinart’s run and sailed out of bounds in perhaps the most fortunate fumble in USC history. Leinart was given the option to spike the ball or run a play by coach Pete Carroll after the clock was reset and, after conferring with Bush, Leinart ran a quarterback sneak. Leinart failed to reach the end zone on the initial surge, but rolled over the left side of the scrum, helped by a push from Bush, and scored. Bush said after the game that, for the first time since the Trojans’ 28-game winning streak started, he doubted his team’s invincibility. “For the first time I think in my career here, I was unsure,” he said. “I regret that so much because I know the type of teammates I have. They never give up.” After Saturday, fans of the seven remaining unbeatens can understand Bush’s thoughts. Walter Hammerwold can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2239, or by e-mail at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Five of the nine teams that began the weekend unbeaten were involved in games that were decided in the closing minute, including three games that went down to the last play. USC won the most high-profile of the contests on the second-to-last play of the game, when Matt Leinart found the end zone on a quarterback sneak to defeat Notre Dame 34-31. USC running back Reggie Bush rushed for 160 yards and scored three touchdowns Saturday, but it was his nudge in the closing seconds that kept the Trojans’ winning streak alive. A week after national pundits began predicting BCS bedlam with forecasts of as many as five teams making it through the regular season unscathed, college football responded with an exhilarating Saturday that reminded everyone the sport tends to work itself out on the field (2004 not withstanding). AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week But while the Trojans were taking the field in South Bend, Ind., for the start of their game, Alabama kicker Jamie Christensen was in Oxford, Miss., lining up a game-winning, 37-yard kick on the final play of a 13-10 victory over Ole Miss that kept the Crimson Tide’s unbeaten streak alive. And while officials were busy pushing Fighting Irish fans off the field and resetting the Notre Dame Stadium clock to seven seconds, unbeaten UCLA was down 21-0 to unheralded Washington State. The Bruins responded with their third consecutive fourth-quarter rally and won in overtime 44-41 in a dramatic style that is becoming vintage UCLA. Penn State wasn’t so lucky in its unbeaten bid. The Nittany Lions fell prey to Michigan quarterback Chad Henne’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham as time expired in a 27-25 loss that likely ended their unexpected BCS run. And formerly unbeaten Florida State saw its attempted rally stall on an interception by Tony Franklin in its 26-21 loss to Virigina. By Saturday’s standards, this one was clinched early. Franklin’s pick came with 50 seconds remaining. But the day belonged to USC. The Trojans needed luck more befitting their Irish foes to outlast Notre Dame in a game that rivaled only Ohio State’s double-overtime, 31-24 victory over Miami in the BCS-title game at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl for the most exciting game in recent memory.