As the ball slammed into the net, UCLA midfielder Olivia Athens sprinted away with her finger pointing to the sky.
She didn’t get far before she was engulfed by her UCLA teammates, hurtling toward her from all sides of the field and the bench. She fell to the ground underneath the dog pile.
Midfielder Jessie Fleming chipped the pass inside the box in double overtime, and Athens headed the ball over USC goalie Kaylie Collins, giving No. 6 UCLA a 3-2 win over USC in the final game of the regular season.
Last season’s rivalry game between the teams also ended with a 3-2 overtime win by UCLA, on a game-winning goal by sophomore Ashley Sanchez.
“It was definitely a deja vu moment from last year,” Athens said. “I think it was pretty identical.”
The Bruins take second place in the Pac-12 and an improved seed in the NCAA Tournament. The tournament bracket will be revealed in a selection show Monday.
UCLA had won eight straight games to become the nation’s sixth-ranked team, while No. 2 USC recorded 13 shutouts, tying the fourth-highest season total in program history.
“It felt like a postseason game,” UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said. “It felt like a Final Four game.”
USC controlled possession at first with tight passes and physicality but could not create a scoring chance.
The teams clashed with trips, tackles and penalty whistles, with 11 fouls in the first half. UCLA sophomore Karina Rodriguez leapt for a header and took a hard fall on her back but reentered the game once play resumed.
“It really felt like it was a heavyweight slugfest,” Cromwell said.
USC’s intensity escalated as the half wore on, until Penelope Hocking broke free. She darted past UCLA defenders and neared the goalie box. Once she was surrounded by Bruins, Hocking flicked the ball to her left, and Savannah DeMelo drilled a goal, giving USC a 1-0 lead.
Sanchez had scored or assisted in each of UCLA’s eight straight wins, but the USC back line limited her chances Friday, as the Trojans outshot the Bruins 6-3 in the first half. UCLA managed only one shot on goal.
In the second half, the Bruins made position changes and played faster to counter USC’s physical play. The adjustments paid off. In the 51st minute, UCLA forward Julia Hernandez tore down the field and blew through two defenders before drilling a goal, breaking USC’s four-game shutout streak and tying the game at 1.
USC earned a penalty kick, but midfielder Tara McKeown chipped the open shot too high. It sailed over the center post, maintaining the tie game in the 63rd minute.
Goalie Teagan Micah said before the kick, Sanchez called where McKeown normally aims those shots. UCLA players screamed behind McKeown to warn Micah.
“I think it was our players kind of getting in her head,” Micah said.
Following a UCLA corner kick in the 86th minute, Hocking saw a hole. She sprinted down the field with the ball into scoring range. She dumped the ball to Alea Hyatt and was wide open when Hyatt fed the ball back. She hammered a shot that Micah tipped but could not stop, giving USC a 2-1 lead.
“You don’t want your opportunities to turn into their goal,” Cromwell said. “But that’s the kind of team they are.”