Trojans, Fighting Irish play game for the ages

first_img When Matt Leinart finally bounced off his line on a quarterback sneak and into the end zone for the winning touchdown in the final three seconds to continue No. 1 USC’s 28-game winning streak with the 34-31 victory, guard Taitusi Lutui felt his body drain. “I was on the floor, on the bottom of the pile,’ he said. “I looked over at the official and saw his hands go up to signal touchdown and I just started crying. “I just laid there. I wasn’t even trying to get up. I think my heart stopped on the last play.’ It was a remarkable finish to the most treasured intersectional rivalry in college football. There were three touchdowns scored in the final 5:06. First the Irish thought they’d won, then the Trojans. It was a game filled with passionate play by both sides, two champion boxers who refused to go down. It had controversy and heroes, grand moments followed by ones even more grand, gutsy calls and non- ending humongous plays. It was absolutely breathtaking. A wondrous college football game, culminating with an ending that caused hearts to skip. That left tears on both sides. A battle of two proud teams that would not flinch, that refused to quit. On a gorgeous autumn afternoon in one of college football’s most historic sites, the Trojans and Fighting Irish battled until the clock finally said they could no longer go on. So many sights and sounds, so many astonishing moments. It was less football than opera. A whirlwind of emotions, of ups and downs, of over- the-top plays. USC and Notre Dame put together a game for the ages Saturday. It had more parts than a Russian novel, more turns than Minotaur’s labyrinth. center_img “I would imagine this will probably go down as one of the greatest games in college football history,’ Leinart said. Check your classics channel, it may already be playing. It was two-time defending national champion USC against on-the- rise No. 9 Notre Dame. Former NFL coaches Pete Carroll vs. Charlie Weis. Two celebrated programs, two historic adversaries, two teams that would not wilt from the pressure. “This is what college football is all about,’ USC tailback Reggie Bush said. It’s what it dreams of being every Saturday, but only so rarely brings all the elements together so memorably. USC has made a bad habit of falling behind in recent games and having to rally in the fourth quarter to pull out victory. They pushed it to ridiculous extremes Saturday, almost watching their unbeaten run come to a crashing ending. The Trojans might have thought they’d pulled out their usual comeback routine Saturday when Bush scored his third touchdown of the day on a 9-yard run with 5:09 left to take a 28-24 lead. But the Irish wearing their green uniforms had an answer of their own, driving the field on the Trojans the way no one has late in a game in years, Brady Quinn’s 5- yard quarterback keeper putting the Irish back on top 31-28 with only 2:04 to play. Time seemed to finally be running out on the Trojans. Considered one of the greatest collegiate offenses ever, USC sputtered moving the ball throughout most of the afternoon. Quickly the Trojans found themselves faced with a fourth-and-9 at the Notre Dame 26 with 1:32 left. Their unbeaten streak appeared at an end. The sellout crowd of 80,795 was all on its feet, roaring. Notre Dame Stadium pulsated so strongly, bodies seemed to almost vibrate. “For the first time in my career, I wasn’t sure,’ Bush said. “I regret that now, knowing my teammates.’ Leinart came to the line, sensed a blitzed and checked into another play with hand signals. He found wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett playing with a scratched right cornea down the left side, just getting his pass over Notre Dame cornerback Ambrose Wooden. Jarrett sped down the sideline. Heads throughout the stadium began to turn as he continued churning up the yards. He was finally tackled after a 61-yard gain at the Notre Dame 13-yard line. “I just thought I had to make a play,’ Jarrett said. More would still have to be made, and quickly. USC was out of timeouts. After a pair of Bush runs gave USC a first down at the Irish 2-yard line, Leinart rolled left when he was unable to find a receiver and tried to dive into the end zone. He was knocked out inches shy, the ball squirting from his grasp and going out of bounds. The clocked ticked to zero and the Irish players started rushing the field, believing they had upset the nation’s No. 1 team. But the Pac-10 Conference officials huddled and put 7 seconds back on the clock. Carroll had used his visiting non-conference coach’s prerogative and requested replays not be utilized at the game. The Trojans hurried to the line of scrimmage. Carroll was moving his hand downward, signaling he wanted Leinart to spike the ball and stop the clock; it was a ploy. USC could have stopped the clock, kicked a short field goal to tie the game and sent it into overtime. “We didn’t come out here to tie,’ Jarrett said. “We came to win.’ Leinart called for the quarterback sneak. At first he appeared rebuffed by the Notre Dame line, but he spun to his left, and aided by an illegal push by Bush, spun into the end zone. Trojans celebrated. The Irish fought disbelief. It was thrilling, chaotic, bordered on magical. A game that needed to be bottled, it’s marvelous pandemonium captured and revisited. “I am so in love with this team,’ Carroll said. “They just will not let it die.’ The Trojans are 6-0, their streak alive, their history a little more storied. Steve Dilbeck can be reached at (818) 713-3607. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more