History Scrambles Past Trojans

Times Staff Writer

The stage was set for USC to make college football history.

On a cool, clear Wednesday evening at the Rose Bowl, the top-ranked and undefeated Trojans had a chance to capture their third consecutive national championship. They came up 19 seconds short.

In a dramatic finish that lived up to all the pregame hype, Texas quarterback Vince Young scrambled for a last-gasp touchdown to give his team a 41-38 upset win before a crowd of 93,986 in Pasadena.

With the victory, the Longhorns captured the bowl championship series’ crystal trophy and their first national title since 1970.


“It’s so beautiful. Don’t ya’ll think that’s beautiful?” Young said, referring to the trophy. “It’s coming home all the way to Austin, baby.”

Texas prevailed by putting together a nervy drive after USC had come up short on a fourth-down run near midfield. It was a fitting end to a glitzy battle between the biggest stars in the game.

The USC backfield featured an unprecedented two Heisman Trophy winners. Quarterback Matt Leinart, who won in 2004, and tailback Reggie Bush, this season’s winner, both played spectacularly at times.

They were aided by the team’s other tailback, LenDale White, who ran for 124 yards and three touchdowns.

But none of that was enough to overcome Young, the disappointed Heisman runner-up who exacted his revenge with one of the greatest individual performances in Rose Bowl history, passing for 267 yards, running for 200 and scoring three touchdowns.

“Vince did his thing tonight. There’s no way to stop him,” USC’s White said. “I don’t like losing, but nobody can win all the time. They came out and played a great game.”


The victory extends Texas’ winning streak to 20 games, which becomes the longest current run in major college football.

On the other side of the field, USC’s 34-game winning streak, the sixth-longest ever, came to an end.

The streak began in October 2003 with a dramatic game at Arizona State, an injured Leinart hobbling out of the locker room to guide his team to a comeback win.

There were dominating performances along the way, especially in bowl games. The Trojans defeated Michigan, 28-14, in the 2004 Rose Bowl and swamped No. 2 Oklahoma, 55-19, in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

There were also close calls, especially this season. USC mounted second-half comebacks at Oregon and Arizona State, and needed a twisting, stretching quarterback sneak -- with a timely shove from Bush -- to score the winning touchdown in a 34-31 victory at Notre Dame.

But the Trojans did not have as fierce a defense as in seasons past and, on Wednesday, that was a problem.


At first, it looked as if the Trojans might simply out-pace Texas, forcing a fumble on a punt return in the first minutes, then scoring on a short run by White.

The 7-0 lead might have grown wider if not for stumbles on three subsequent drives. USC failed on a fourth-down conversion, gave up the ball on an ill-advised lateral attempt by Bush and had a pass intercepted in the end zone.

“We tried to do too much,” Bush said.

That gave the Longhorns a chance to hang around and find their rhythm by going to the no-huddle offense.

On a controversial play in the second quarter, Young scrambled around left end. His knee appeared to touch the ground, but there was no whistle, and he pitched to Selvin Young, who dashed the remaining 12 yards for a 9-7 lead. Officials did not review the play.

Texas added another touchdown and USC kicked a field goal to make the score 16-10 at halftime.

The Trojans’ loss now puts them in the company of other two-time champions who came up just short in their bids to three-peat.


Oklahoma stood atop the Associated Press Poll in 1955 and ’56 but finished fourth the next season. Nebraska repeated in ’94 and ‘95, then slipped to sixth.

Texas ruined USC’s hopes by refusing to flinch in a second half that saw both teams move the ball up and down the field in rapid-fire succession.

White scored twice and Young reached the end zone, USC holding a 24-23 lead at the end of three quarters. The Longhorns missed a field-goal attempt at the start of the fourth quarter and fell behind by 12 points, but the excitement was just beginning.

“I’m proud of these kids,” Texas Coach Mack Brown said. “I’m proud of these coaches.”

On a first-down play with just over four minutes remaining, Young reversed field and swept right for a 17-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 38-33.

USC got the ball back and faced a critical decision on fourth and two at the Texas 45-yard line. Coach Pete Carroll decided to go for the first down rather than punt, and White was stopped a yard short.

“You’re going to have to stop them anyway, no matter how far you kick it,” Carroll said. “In my way of thinking, you go for it all the time.”


Texas moved quickly downfield, Young completing a series of passes and scrambling for a first down to set up the winning play.

On fourth down and five from the USC eight-yard line, the 6-foot-5, 233-pound junior ran to the right side and just slipped into the corner of the end zone.

The fourth-quarter fireworks made good on a much-hyped game that saw tickets listed for as much as $1,700 each on EBay on Wednesday morning. Hundreds of fans were expected to show up looking to buy tickets from scalpers.

More was at stake than football. The Rose Bowl, like other bowl championship series games, offers a $14-million to $17-million payout per team.

But that offered no solace to a USC team that had lost a chance to distinguish itself among the best of all time.

“It’s been wonderful doing what we’ve been doing; it’s too bad it had to end,” Carroll said. “We couldn’t stop them, and the quarterback ran all over the place.”


And no bowl payout mattered to the Longhorns as they climbed atop a hastily erected stage on the field, accepting the championship trophy, waving to legions of fans.

“This is incredible,” offensive lineman Justin Blalock said. “It’s been a long time coming for the state of Texas.”