NCAA Football

USC tops Texas in 20T thriller, improves to 3-0

September 16, 2017

LOS ANGELES — USC and Texas have a flair for the dramatics.

In the teams’ first meeting since dueling for the national championship 12 seasons ago in a Rose Bowl classic, considered one of the greatest games in college football history, the rematch came down to the final moments on Saturday night and to the leg of a freshman walk-on.

In double overtime, Chase McGrath hit a 43-yard field goal, lifting fourth-ranked USC to a dramatic 27-24 victory over Texas.

“That’s what great teams do,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “They’re going to have one of these games, and they find a way to win.”

As McGrath’s kick snuck through the right upright, he turned around and ran back toward the west end zone of the Coliseum. A mob of USC’s teammates flowed from the sidelined and mobbed him in celebration.

The Trojans, whose hopes of mounting a run toward the College Football Playoff, were seemingly preserved for at least another week, as they improved to 3-0 overall.

To force overtime, the Trojans relied on the heroics of both McGrath and heralded quarterback Sam Darnold.

The third-year sophomore passer led USC’s offense 52 yards in the final 39 seconds of regulation, putting it in position to tie the game after he completed three consecutive passes to receivers Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett, as well as freshman running back Stephen Carr.

McGrath, with five seconds left, hit a 31-yard field goal, his first collegiate field goal, to tie the game at 17 points apiece.

It was a sudden twist.

Moments earlier it appeared Texas (1-2) was again set to derail USC in heartbreaking fashion in the final moments.

With 45 seconds remaining, Sam Ehlinger, the Longhorns’ freshman quarterback, rolled out of the pocket to his right and found Armanti Foreman in front of him, alone near the end-zone pylon.

USC cornerback Jack Jones, who was covering Foreman, had tripped as Foreman ran across the end zone. Foreman caught the pass for a go-ahead, 17-yard touchdown, as Ehlinger scurried away from linebacker Cameron Smith and avoided an encroaching pass rush.

Ehlinger started for Texas, while sophomore Shane Buechele was limited with a sore throwing shoulder. It was then the Longhorns’ first offensive touchdown, and the first time the Trojans trailed.

McGrath’s second field goal in the second overtime arrived after a Texas turnover.

On the Longhorns’ opening possession of the second overtime, Ehlinger snuck toward the goal line, when USC defensive lineman Christian Rector stripped the ball from his grasp. Cornerback Ajene Harris then scooped it up, putting the Trojans in striking distance. They needed only a touchdown or field goal on their possession of the second overtime to win.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, USC opening with a 25-yard touchdown on a pass from Darnold to Burnett over the middle.

Burnett caught the pass in stride as he crossed the goal line. As he ran through the end zone, he ran toward Matt Leinart, the former USC quarterback who was on the field, and shook his hand.

Despite the late flair, it was often sloppy for USC’s offense, which twice saw Darnold intercepted and three times was stopped on fourth down.

Darnold completed 28 of 49 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns. His two interceptions raised his interception total to six through three games. He finished with nine last season.

The Trojans out-gained Texas, 468-366 yards.

USC finished with just 71 rushing yards on 37 carries.

The teams were scoreless for the first 27 minutes until a rush of touchdowns prior to halftime.

The last score was the most dramatic, giving USC a 14-7 lead after the first two quarters.

With five seconds remaining, Darnold dumped a pass to running back Ronald Jones for a 56-yard touchdown.

Jones cut across the field, running the final 22 yards into the end zone, assisted by a block from Mitchell.

Texas had knotted the score only two players earlier on a Pick 6, when safety DeShon Elliott intercepted a pass by Darnold, returning it 38 yards for a touchdown.

Darnold had delivered a throw to junior receiver Jalen Greene over the middle, but it bounced off Greene’s hands, and Elliott scooped the ball up before it landed on the grass. Five of Darnold’s incompletions in the first half were dropped.

USC was first on the scoreboard when Darnold hit Burnett for a touchdown, moving ahead, 7-0, with less than three minutes remaining.

Darnold slid forward several yards in the pocket, escaping the grasp of three Texas defensive linemen, then fluttered a pass over the middle of the field to Burnett.

Draped by a defensive back, Burnett dove along the back line of the end zone, snagging a 15-yard touchdown.

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