Notre Dame's 11-game winning streak over USC became a 12-game unbeaten streak Saturday on a bitterly cold and windy night at the Coliseum.
In a 17-17 tie before 90,217, USC seemed to have the late-game momentum, after linebacker Israel Ifeanyi and safety Sammy Knight combined for the most explosive play of the night, one that set up the Trojans' tying score.
The 6-foot-6 Ifeanyi made a leaping, one-handed block of a 37-yard field-goal try by Notre Dame's Stefan Schroffner with 6:43 left in the game.
Knight picked it up and ran 56 yards to the Notre Dame 16.
USC trailed at the time, 17-10, and Trojan partisans were roaring.
Tailback Shawn Walters, playing with a painful cracked right thumb, got it to the Notre Dame one on two punishing runs, then carried twice more, scoring from the one-foot line to make it 17-16 with 4:53 to go.
Cole Ford tied it with a kick, and the first question for USC Coach John Robinson afterward was about the spurned two-point conversion play.
"We didn't come here to play for a tie, but I was afraid if we missed a two, we wouldn't get the ball back," he said.
But they did, when sophomore quarterback Ron Powlus, who had taken the Irish on 80- and 65-yard touchdown marches, couldn't move the ball this time.
Notre Dame's drive was stopped by tackles for losses by cornerback Brian Kelly and nose tackle Cedric Jefferson (a loss of eight yards), and an open-field tackle of a scrambling Powlus by linebacker Donn Cunnigan.
And when Notre Dame's Chris Wachtel got off a 29-yard punt to USC's 48, the Trojans (7-3-1) had a decent chance to pull it out with 2:22 to go, but quarterback Rob Johnson's offensive line failed him.
After two losses--one on a sack, the other when Johnson tripped over a teammate--John Stonehouse punted 51 yards to Notre Dame's eight. The Irish, with less than a minute to play, never made a serious threat.
The tie left unclear what bowl lies ahead for USC or Notre Dame.
Robinson saluted Stonehouse, who had a 65-yard punt in a cross-wind in the third quarter and averaged 48.8 yards on five punts, many pinning the Irish deep.
"John Stonehouse is a truly great punter and he's had a fabulous season," Robinson said.
Johnson, battling an at-times surging Irish rush as well as swirling winds, was 15 for 29 for 187 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Powlus was 13 for 22 for 115 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Of Ifeanyi's field-goal block, Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz said he should have listened to his players. It was fourth and two at USC's 20.
"Our kicker did not get the ball up at all," he said.
"It was so low, I hoped it would clear the center. Our players wanted me to go for it, and I probably should have. I asked the kicker: 'Can you make this?' and he said: 'Yeah . . . I think so.' "
In a game played in a hard, cold wind--48 degrees and 20- to 25-m.p.h. winds at kickoff--the wind wasn't a factor on the game's deciding kick play.
But it was a factor on passing downs, Robinson said.
"It was hard to throw, for both sides," he said.
"Some guys' hats were blown off on our sideline. A lot of passes were dovetailing."
USC's Keyshawn Johnson caught six passes for 114 yards. It was his eighth 100-yard game, and seventh in a row.
Robinson was winless a second consecutive year against the Irish because his defense couldn't stop Notre Dame's running game. Lee Becton (156 yards) led a charge that netted 226 yards, compared to USC's 87.
A year ago at South Bend, Becton ran for 177--still his career high--and the Irish had 305 rushing yards.
Thanks to Becton and his offensive line, Notre Dame (6-4-1) nearly doubled the possession time of USC, more than 38 minutes to the Trojans' 21:30.
On the drive capped by Powlus' one-yard plunge for Notre Dame's 17-10 third-quarter lead, Powlus got the Irish to the USC three with a 17-yard throw over the middle to Derrick Mayes.
Notre Dame took a 10-7 halftime lead on Powlus' 19th touchdown of the season, a new one-season Irish record.
And it concluded the first half's best drive, an 80-yarder--after Johnson had taken USC 34 yards for a 7-3 lead.
Ford's kickoff, riding a howling wind, went out of the end zone, but Becton produced good field position for the Irish on the first play. He burst through the Trojans' left side for 28 yards, and then Powlus hit Mayes for an 18-yarder.
Two plays later, Becton went up the middle for six, putting Notre Dame at the USC 22.
The touchdown was an impressive bit of playmaking by the first-year quarterback. Dancing about in the face of a Trojan rush, he looked at multiple receivers, then finally hit Ray Zellars in the end zone with 1:01 left before halftime.
Johnson took USC to the Irish 20 in the final minute, but Ford missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt.
Notre Dame started the game with a drive that resembled the first half against USC a year ago, when the Irish won, 31-13. Powlus, starting at his 21, took his team 68 yards in 12 plays.
Powlus got Notre Dame to the USC nine, but linebackers Jeff Kopp and Brian Williams ran a scrambling Powlus out of bounds on third and goal, and Schroffner kicked a 29-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Trojans got the lead after a poor Irish series, following Stonehouse's punt to Notre Dame's two.
Two of Powlus' receivers, Charles Stafford and Oscar McBride, dropped balls that Powlus put right in their hands. A short punt gave USC the ball at the Notre Dame 34.
On third and three, Rob Johnson hit Keyshawn Johnson, who slipped away from two tacklers and reached the Irish four. Leonard Green gained two, lost three, and then Rob Johnson hit Johnny McWilliams on the goal line for a score, the 55th touchdown pass of his career.
Rose Bowl Race
Team Conf. Overall W L T W L T Oregon 7 1 0 9 3 0 USC 6 2 0 7 3 1 Arizona 6 2 0 8 3 0 Washington State 5 3 0 7 4 0 Washington 4 4 0 7 4 0 UCLA 3 5 0 5 6 0 California 3 5 0 4 7 0 Oregon State 2 6 0 4 7 0 Stanford 2 6 0 3 7 1 Arizona State 2 6 0 3 8 0
USC 17, Notre Dame 17
Team Conf. Overall W L T W L T Penn St. 8 0 0 11 0 0 Ohio St. 6 2 0 9 3 0 Michigan 5 3 0 7 4 0 Wisconsin 4 3 1 6 4 1 Illinois 4 4 0 6 5 0 Michigan St. 4 4 0 5 6 0 Iowa 3 4 1 5 5 1 Purdue 2 4 2 4 5 2 Indiana 3 5 0 6 5 0 Northwestern 2 6 0 3 7 1 Minnesota 1 7 0 3 8 0
Penn St. 59, Mich. St. 31
* LOU HOLTZ: Coach can't pull the trigger on a crucial fourth-down, fourth-quarter situation, but he steals the postgame show and sets stage for next season. C12
* ROB JOHNSON: Quarterback has almost every record for the Trojans, but he ends his career 0-3 record against UCLA and 0-2-1 against Notre Dame. C12
* NOT SIMPLE: ABC runs into technical problems, including no picture at one time and Prime Ticket's Tom Kelly doing play-by-play at another. C13