Underdog UCLA was holding a slim lead over a USC team driving toward the end zone.
With a sold-out crowd of 90,622 holding its collective breath, the linebacker stretched his arms and cradled the ball for an interception that clinched UCLA's stunning 13-9 upset over the second-ranked Trojans in the 76th meeting between the cross-town rivals.
"I know how important this win is to the Bruin family," UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said, beaming. "I know that it's been a long time."
With a swarming defense, a just-good-enough offense led by quarterback Patrick Cowan and two field goals by Justin Medlock, the Bruins ended seven seasons of USC domination and knocked the Trojans out of an expected date with top-ranked Ohio State in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
The Bruins, who finished 7-5 overall and 5-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference, are bound for the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. But Dorrell, who has lived in the shadow of USC Coach Pete Carroll, had something else in mind after the most important victory of his four-year tenure.
"I'm thinking about getting back on top in Los Angeles," Dorrell said.
He was there Saturday night, bathed in cheers from the joyous crowd.
USC had already clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl by winning its fifth consecutive Pac-10 title. But the Trojans had no intention of returning to Pasadena, where they also lost last season's BCS title game against Texas.
They will return, however, on New Year's Day thanks to a Bruins team that had a clear plan for victory on a sunny afternoon in the Arroyo Seco.
"We had a great chance to finish this thing off right and we just didn't get it done," Carroll said.
UCLA had a lot to do with that, pressuring Booty throughout the game and limiting the Trojans to a season-low 55 rushing yards.
Bruins defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who coached under Carroll with the New England Patriots and at USC, confounded the Trojans, who failed to score at least 20 points for the first time since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.
USC, which was penalized nine times for 55 yards, converted only six of 17 third-down plays and one of three fourth-down situations.
"They stuffed us, flat out," said Booty, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 274 yards but was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season and was sacked twice. "I don't like to admit that, but that's what happened. We weren't getting anything going."
Cowan was, running through the Trojans defense in the first half for the Bruins' only touchdown and avoiding a costly interception that might have opened the door for the Trojans.
Cowan, who completed 12 of 21 for 114 yards, gained 55 yards in four carries during the 91-yard, first-quarter scoring drive that he capped with a one-yard run for a 7-0 lead. It marked the first time the Bruins were ahead of the Trojans in Carroll's six seasons.
USC had pulled ahead by halftime with a safety and a one-yard touchdown run by C.J. Gable for a 9-7 lead.