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Stanford leaps up and stuns Trojans

Times Staff Writers

In a season of college football upsets, Stanford on Saturday pulled maybe the biggest so far, stunning USC at the Coliseum, 24-23.

USC’s top ranking in the college football coaches’ poll? Gone.

The Trojans’ No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press media poll? Gone.

The team’s hopes for a national title? Probably gone.

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All at the hands of a Stanford team that was a 41-point underdog, coming into the game with a 1-3 record and having been outscored, 141-51, in three Pacific-10 Conference losses.

The season started with lower-division Appalachian State upsetting No. 5-ranked Michigan on its own field, and the surprises didn’t stop there.

Then-No. 3 Oklahoma lost to Colorado, 27-24, and West Virginia, No. 5 at the time, fell to South Florida, 21-13.

LSU is the only team from the AP’s preseason top 10 that hasn’t lost.

USC was sunk by a local product, former Los Angeles Fremont High star Mark Bradford, who leaped over Trojans cornerback Mozique McCurtis to haul in a pass near the left corner of the end zone with 49 seconds to play. That tied the score, and Derek Belch’s point-after kick won it, sucking both the air and the sound out of the largely partisan crowd of 85,125.

Bradford’s catch came on a score-now-or-lose fourth-and-goal play from the 10-yard line. It also came less than two weeks after the death of his father, which prompted him to miss practice time leading up to the game.

“In my head all I heard was my dad’s voice,” Bradford said amid the postgame celebration. “He always told me that if I wanted to be a wide receiver, I had to hold on to the ball.”

He wasn’t the only Stanford hero. The quarterback who threw the pass, Tavita Pritchard, was filling in for T.C. Ostrander, who was held out of the game after having a seizure last Sunday.

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Pritchard, a sophomore who came in having thrown only three passes in his collegiate career, passed for 149 yards -- the winning touchdown was his first scoring pass.

Trojans Coach Pete Carroll gave Stanford credit. Sort of.

“They just hung around and waited. We made enough mistakes and they capitalized,” he said. “This just goes to show, the guys who play better win. They just waited us out. That touchdown at the end was well done on their part.”

Meanwhile, John David Booty, USC’s highly acclaimed quarterback, continued his season-long struggle.

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Considered a leading early-season candidate for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top individual award, Booty has had only one standout game. And it wasn’t Saturday’s.

He passed for 364 yards and two touchdowns -- USC outgained Stanford, 459-235 -- but four of his throws were intercepted.

Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh said he had an inkling before the game that his quarterback and team were ready for a special performance.

“He had a gleam in his eye from Sunday on,” Harbaugh said of Pritchard. “He was ready to play and took it on his head and played great. He was into it from the first snap.”

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Pritchard’s statistics weren’t great -- he completed only 11 of 30 passes with an interception -- but he was at his best when it counted, guiding the Cardinal offense to 17 fourth-quarter points against one of the nation’s top-rated defenses.

USC had won 35 consecutive games at the Coliseum -- its last loss there also to Stanford, 21-16, on Sept. 29, 2001.

USC still can win the Pac-10 title and play in the Rose Bowl. But as far as its hopes for a national championship go, the Trojans can only hope that the season of upsets continues, allowing them to perhaps climb back into contention.

mike.hiserman@latimes.com

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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