WACO, Tex. — It was a strange ending to a very strange game. In a flash rainstorm, with the wind blowing and thunder bellowing, USC's Don Shafer kicked a 32-yard field goal on the last play to defeat Baylor, 17-14, Saturday.
That USC beat Baylor at all was slightly incredible. For 3 1/2 quarters, the Bears, especially their defense, had mauled the Trojans but couldn't put them away. USC was somehow clinging to a 7-7 tie when Baylor scored for what appeared to be a secure 14-7 lead with 7:24 left in the game.
The Trojans had been futile offensively up to that point. They hadn't made their initial first down, other than from a penalty, until the first play of the fourth quarter.
Baylor had battered USC by outgaining them, 234 yards to 54, in the first half.
Somewhat miraculously, USC had gone in at halftime with the 7-7 tie after strong safety Tim McDonald intercepted a fumble and carried it 99 yards to a touchdown 15 seconds before the first half ended.
If ever a team seemed ready to be beaten, it was USC. But after Baylor made it 14-7, the dormant Trojan offense came to life. USC quarterback Rodney Peete, who had been harassed by a blitzing Baylor defense in the first half, drove USC 61 yards to a touchdown.
The score came in spectacular fashion, split end Ken Henry leaping high in the end zone to catch Peete's pass and barely stay in bounds with only 3:50 remaining in the game.
Shafer tied the game with his extra-point kick, but Baylor, on the move all day, still had time to break the deadlock.
The Trojan defense, which bent a lot at times but didn't break, forced Baylor to punt from its own 27-yard line.
Flanker Randy Tanner made a fair catch at the USC 36, and the suddenly revitalized Trojans surged again.
Peete, who completed only 2 of 13 passes through three quarters, found Tanner with a 17-yard pass to the Baylor 30 after the quarterback had rolled out for 8 yards and a first down at the Baylor 47.
Fullback Todd Steele then lumbered up the middle for 16 yards to the Baylor 14 on his first carry of the game, spraining his left knee in the process.
Peete killed some time by falling down with the ball, stalling for the inevitable fourth-down field goal try by Shafer.
Baylor called two time-outs during this stretch, trying to preserve some time on the clock.
The Trojans cut it close, calling their last time-out with two seconds left. The field was drenched with rain at this juncture, and the wind was howling. A typical flash storm for Central Texas at this time of the year, the natives say.
Center Scott Brennan's snap was accurate, reserve quarterback Kevin McLean handled it flawlessly, and Shafer kicked it through the uprights as time expired.
Somehow, in some way, USC had beaten ninth-ranked Baylor to improve its record to 2-0, while the Bears, apparently stunned, slipped to 2-1.
'I was only worried about the trajectory, not the distance," Shafer said of the winning kick. "The ball was heavy because of the rain. My kick went to the left but through the uprights. Scott and Kevin had the tough jobs."
Shafer was also mindful of having an extra-point attempt blocked by Baylor last year when the Bears upset USC, 20-13, at the Coliseum:
Said McLean: "When I was on the sidelines, I rolled the ball around in the water to make sure that I could catch the snap. I thought if I could catch it, Shafer would make it."
Said Brennan: "I wanted a dry ball, so I asked an official for it. He said, 'If you want it, you go get it.' Then another official said, 'I'm starting the clock.' "
Brennan said he had water in his eyes when he crouched over the ball, but he shook his head to clear his vision and made a true snap to McLean.
USC Coach Ted Tollner said: "If ever there's a case where you tell a team to keep playing and you'll always have a chance, this was the game. Games like this don't happen often. We were so inept for three quarters and then we found a way to win it. There's a message there for our team. It will make us a better team."
Tollner said he thought about kicking a field goal after Steele had made a first down with his run to the Baylor 14. But the USC coach wanted to rub more time off the clock to prevent Baylor from having a scoring opportunity.
Even though Peete had pulled a left hamstring on his touchdown pass to Henry, Tollner kept his quarterback in the game at the end.
Anyone looking at the final statistics and not knowing the final score would have assumed that Baylor had won easily.
The Bears gained 408 net yards to only 197 for the Trojans and had a bulge in first downs, 26-11. In possession time, Baylor held the ball for 37 minutes 47 seconds to USC's 22 minutes 13 seconds.
"This was one that just got away," Baylor Coach Grant Teaff said. "We played well enough today to beat anyone in the country. We dominated the game through the third quarter, but USC did what it needed to do to win."