Thirty-seven years ago, a top-ranked USC team came to this Pacific 10 Conference outpost and could not overcome a muddy field in a stunning loss to Oregon State.
On Saturday night, top-ranked USC faced another potential weather-induced trauma when a cold fog enshrouded Reser Stadium.
This time, however, the Trojans survived the elements and their own mistakes for a 28-20 comeback victory over the Beavers before a sellout crowd of 36,412.
“We were playing in a cloud,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m glad this cloud had a silver lining.”
Matt Leinart threw two touchdown passes to tight end Dominique Byrd and Reggie Bush returned a punt for a touchdown for the second consecutive week as the Trojans survived a scare and extended their winning streak to 18 games on a chilly 40-degree evening.
“It was kind of hard with the fog and everything, definitely something we weren’t used to,” Bush said. “We just had to adjust to it, and you know, championship teams always do.”
USC’s defense pressured Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson and came up with several big plays as the Trojans improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Pac-10 to remain on track for its first appearance in the bowl championship series title game.
But USC got all it could handle from Oregon State, which had ended a 33-year, 26-game losing streak against USC when the Trojans last visited here in 2000.
Carroll gleefully threw passes on the field during warmups and seemed energized by the fog that had engulfed the stadium about two hours before kickoff.
“This is fantastic,” Carroll said.
Carroll probably wasn’t feeling that way at halftime when the Trojans ran off the field trailing, 13-7.
But just as they did on the road against Virginia Tech and Stanford, the Trojans came back for a victory.
After Oregon State recovered a fumble by LenDale White on the first possession of the second half, Trojan middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu returned the favor by intercepting a pass by Anderson.
The Trojans took over at midfield and moved to the 25, where Leinart connected with Byrd for a 25-yard touchdown and a 14-13 lead.
USC safety Jason Leach ended a Beaver threat when he intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone with 6:29 left in the third quarter. Linebacker Matt Grootegoed cut off another drive about four minutes later when he recovered a fumble by running back Dwight Wright.
That set the stage for Bush, who scored on a 57-yard punt return last week against Washington State, but had set up Oregon State’s first touchdown when he fumbled a punt in the first quarter.
Bush said he lost the first-quarter punt in the fog, but with just under 13 minutes left in the game, Bush drifted to his right and fielded a kick by Sam Paulescu at the Trojan 35. He cut back across the field and outran would-be tacklers to the end zone to put the Trojans ahead, 21-13, with 12:27 left.
“I’m always itching for a chance to make a big play for our team. That one came at a needed moment,” said Bush, who also rushed for 88 yards in 11 carries.
Carroll agreed. “He had the magic touch again, when we really needed it,” said the coach, who improved to 11-0 in November at USC.
Bush’s play dazzled the Beavers as well.
“That was kind of a backbreaker. That guy is incredible,” Oregon State receiver Mike Hass said. “You’ve got to give him credit on that. He kind of made it happen all by himself. That’s why he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate, and he showed that tonight.”
White gave the Trojans some breathing room when he scored on a five-yard run with 7:11 remaining to go over the 100-yard rushing mark. White finished with 116 yards in 25 carries.
Anderson’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hawkins with 2:36 left cut the deficit to 28-20, but USC’s Hershel Dennis recovered an onside kick and USC ran out the clock.
“We hung in there and fought tough. It’s just too bad that they made a couple more plays than we did down the stretch,” Oregon State defensive end Bill Swancutt said. “We played hard, went all out and things didn’t go our way.”
Leinart completed 17 of 31 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Anderson completed 22 of 51 for 330 yards for two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Oregon State (4-5, 3-3) led, 13-7, at halftime on two first-quarter field goals by Alexis Serna and Anderson’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Marcel Love with about nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Oregon State built its lead by capitalizing on Bush’s fumble, general confusion by the Trojan offense in the first quarter and a break on a fumble by Oregon State tight end Joe Newton.
Oregon State also intercepted a pass by Leinart inside the five with less than a minute left in the half to preserve its lead.
With Oregon State leading, 6-0, after Serna’s field goals, the Trojans’ first scoring opportunity ended when safety Mitch Meeuwsen deflected Ryan Killeen’s 43-yard field goal attempt with 14:00 left in the half.
The teams traded possessions before Oregon State took over at its 35 with 10:50 remaining in the second quarter. On a third-and-16 at the 41, Anderson completed a pass over the middle to Newton, who ran for 37 yards before safety Darnell Bing forced a fumble. Hass, however, scooped up the ball and gained 14 more yards to the eight.
After throwing an incomplete pass on first down, Anderson hit Love in the end zone for a touchdown and 13-0 lead.
USC cut the deficit to six points on Byrd’s one-handed 18-yard touchdown catch with 4:12 left in the half.
With three-quarters of its schedule complete, USC now turns its attention to next week’s homecoming game against 2-7 Arizona.
After that, the Trojans will have a week off before starting preparations for its final two games against Notre Dame and UCLA.
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Streak Goes On
The Trojans’ 18 victories in a row, beginning after a 34-31 loss to California on Sept. 27, 2003:
*--* Oct. 4 at Arizona State 37-17 Oct. 11 Stanford 44-21 Oct. 18 at Notre Dame 45-14 Oct. 24 at Washington 43-23 Nov. 1 Washington State 43-16 Nov. 15 at Arizona 45-0 Nov. 22 UCLA 47-22 Dec. 6 Oregon State 52-28 Jan. 1 Michigan (Rose Bowl) 28-14 2004 Aug. 28 Virginia Tech at Landover, Md. 24-13 Sept. 11 Colorado State 49-0 Sept. 18 at Brigham Young 42-10 Sept. 25 at Stanford 31-28 Oct. 9 California 23-17 Oct. 16 Arizona State 45-7 Oct. 23 Washington 38-0 Oct. 30 at Washington State 42-12 Nov. 6 at Oregon State 28-20
* NOTE -- The two longest unbeaten streaks in college football history belong to Oklahoma (1953-1957) with 47 wins and Washington (1908-14) with 39 wins. The streaks ended with Notre Dame defeating the Sooners, 7-0, in 1957 and Oregon State tying the Huskies, 0-0, in 1914.