In what has to rate as one of the most thrilling, emotional games in a storied series, USC outlasted UCLA, 45-42, Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
It seemed that whichever team had the ball last would win, and it almost worked out that way.
USC quarterback Todd Marinovich threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Johnnie Morton with 16 seconds remaining to provide the Trojans with the winning margin.
It seemed that UCLA had won the game with 1:19 left when fullback Kevin Smith scored from the one-yard line to give the Bruins a 42-38 advantage.
As it turned out, the Bruins scored too soon in a game of rapid lead changes.
UCLA had one more opportunity to win or tie, but 16 seconds simply wasn't long enough. UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox, who passed for a school-record 409 yards, overthrew flanker Scott Miller on first down from the Bruin 39-yard line.
On second down, with time running out, Maddox avoided being sacked and then threw the ball downfield into a mob of Bruins and Trojans.
The pass was incomplete as the game ended.
"For a pure game, it was the best I've ever been associated with," USC Coach Larry Smith said.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said he was on a emotional roller coaster all day as a crowd of 98,088 screamed and groaned, according to their allegiances.
It was understandable that Donahue couldn't appreciate the thrilling aspect of the game, considering that his team came so close to winning.
"I can't have a lot of gratitude just to be in the game," he said. "I want to be in the game to win it. But it was a classic. Both teams played hard, and we just came up short. Neither team would quit.
"From their standpoint it was a great victory. From ours it was a real tragedy. You've got to stop them with 1:19 left."
It was the most points scored in one game in the series, and the teams combined for 42 points in the fourth quarter.
By winning, USC improved its record to 8-2-1 with Notre Dame to play next week. The Trojans are headed for the John Hancock Bowl to play Michigan State Dec. 31 in El Paso.
UCLA finished with a 5-6 record, its second consecutive losing season. The Bruins also lost a possible opportunity to play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 27.
They trailed, 31-21 in the fourth quarter, only to go ahead, 35-31, on Maddox's touchdown passes of 29 and 38 yards to Miller.
No lead was safe on this day, however, and the Trojans regained it on Marinovich's 21-yard scoring pass to Morton, who had caught only one touchdown pass in 10 previous games.
So USC was ahead, 38-35, but with 3:09 to play, the Bruins had ample time to regain the lead.
That was accomplished on a 75-yard drive, with Smith barely getting over the goal line on third down.
Now it was up to Marinovich to retaliate. He had been suspended for one game by Smith last month for missing classes. And his performances have been uneven this season after being named the national freshman of the year in 1989.
Starting from the USC 23-yard line, Marinovich completed a third-down, 27-yard pass to his favorite receiver, flanker Gary Wellman, for a first down at the UCLA 45-yard line.
Marinovich went to Wellman again, this time on a 22-yard pass play that reached the Bruin 23-yard line with 26 seconds left.
Then Marinovich threw his game-winning pass to Morton, who made a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone.
Donahue said that the Bruins had double coverage on the play, but cornerback Dion Lambert slipped and fell. That left free safety Michael Williams alone against Morton.
Williams had replaced senior Eric Turner, who left the game with an elbow injury in the third quarter.
Marinovich, who played the entire game, completed 16 of 25 passes for 215 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Maddox had the big numbers. He completed 26 of 40 passes for 409 yards, but he also threw three interceptions.
The first one in the first quarter gave USC a 6-0 lead when cornerback Stephon Pace intercepted Maddox's hurried, lob throw while he was being rushed by defensive guard Don Gibson.
It was a 27-yard interception return for Pace in the opening 52 seconds of the game, the earliest touchdown in the 60-game series.
Pat O'Hara, a reserve quarterback, couldn't handle the snap from center on the extra point try, then couldn't complete a pass for a two-point conversion.
After UCLA took the lead, 7-6, on Maddox's nine-yard scrambling run, Marinovich drove the Trojans to a touchdown with tailback Mazio Royster going the final seven yards.
The Trojan drive was sustained when Turner was cited for a personal foul, a kicking violation.
Maddox got UCLA even at 14-14 in the second quarter on a 47-yard scoring pass to split end Sean LaChapelle.
USC went ahead again, 21-14, on Marinovich's one-yard sneak.
The Trojans had to go only 29 yards after Maddox fumbled to Gibson when sacked by linebacker Kurt Barber.
Maddox had an opportunity to put his team even at halftime, but his pass was intercepted by linebacker Scott Ross when UCLA had a first down at the USC 10-yard line.