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Trojans Collapse in Relief

College football: USC blows 29-point lead, then beats Arizona State in overtime, 44-38, to end five-game losing streak.


TEMPE, Ariz. — Five-game losing streaks don't end easily. Not for a team like USC.

Not when the Trojans let a four-touchdown lead slip away, fumbling the ball and throwing interceptions, doing all the things that have made the last month an unmitigated heartache.

But this time, the Trojans found a way to win, defeating Arizona State, 44-38, in double-overtime at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday.

They did it with an unlikely hero, fourth-string tailback Chad Pierson, scoring the winning touchdown from two yards out.

They did it with defense, with Sultan Abdul-Malik stripping the ball from the Sun Devil quarterback and teammate Matt Childers recovering the fumble to end the game.

"The reports that this team is dead and gone are exaggerated," USC Coach Paul Hackett said. "This is about a game that came down to a gut check."

With the victory, USC (4-5, 1-5 in Pacific 10 Conference) stopped its slide and kept alive its hopes for a winning season. The Trojans, who handed Arizona State (5-4, 2-4) its second consecutive double-overtime loss, would also like to think they exorcised some demons.

"It would have been nice for us to do this five games ago," receiver Kareem Kelly said. "But it was good we came out with this kind of explosion."

Tailback Sultan McCullough led the way, rushing 23 times for a career-high 176 yards, hitting the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

He started the early onslaught when he started to his right, then cut back to a wide-open field. Only safety Alfred Williams had a shot at him, but the tailback blew through the tackle and raced half the length of the field for a touchdown. Even better, John Wall converted the extra-point kick for a 7-0 lead.

Though Arizona State responded with a field goal, the Trojans held the lead after the first quarter--the first time that has happened since a season-opening victory over Penn State--and they were on a roll.

The lead became 14-3 on a drive that unexpectedly featured Pierson. The redshirt sophomore, who had 15 yards rushing this season, carried five times for 30 yards and Carson Palmer finished things off with an 18-yard strike to Keary Colbert.

Petros Papadakis dived over from one yard out to make the score 21-3 in the third quarter. Matt Dalton blocked an Arizona State punt and Steve Stevenson returned it three yards to make the score 28-3 a few minutes later.

Perhaps the Sun Devils could be excused from coming out a little flat after their 56-55 loss to Oregon last week. Said Coach Bruce Snyder: "It took us a long time to get our feet on the ground and get going."

The offense could not generate much by way of the run or pass. Except for a couple of instances, the defense did not pressure Palmer.

Meanwhile, Arizona State quarterback Jeff Krohn left the game because of a cut hand and the 49,865 fans in attendance--who had been winging tortillas onto the field all night--began making like a Coliseum crowd in recent weeks, booing and heading for the exits.

They missed all the fun.

With USC leading 35-6, Arizona State came roaring back. After McCullough fumbled deep in his own territory, tailback Tom Pace scored from three yards out to make the score 35-13.

Then came a fumble by Pierson. Griffin Goodman, Arizona State's reserve quarterback, eluded two blitzers and found Pace alone along the sideline, free to go 45 yards for a touchdown.

"It was sort of a bang-bang kind of thing," Goodman said.

The score was 35-20 with 14:16 remaining and all the ghosts of the losing streak were coming back, all at once, to haunt the Trojans. As Hackett put it: "We came apart."

Arizona State's Shaun McDonald scored on an 81-yard punt return. The Trojans responded by committing three penalties on their next possession, giving the ball right back.

The Sun Devils made them pay when Goodman passed 32 yards to Donnie O'Neal, who had beaten cornerback Kris Richard to the end zone. That left the Sun Devils trying for a two-point conversion, and Goodman lofted the ball over an outstretched Zeke Moreno, once again into O'Neal's hands.

It had taken less than one quarter to undo what USC had spent all night trying to do.

The score was 35-35 with 4:21 remaining. Both teams took a shot at winning in regulation, Arizona State missing a 43-yard field-goal attempt with 1:51 on the clock. Both teams had to settle for field goals in the first overtime.

The Trojans had one last chance to mess things up, their extra point blocked after Pierson's touchdown.

But this time, they found a way to win.


Pac-10 Marathons

Overtime games in the Pacific 10 Conference this season:


Date Game Result Oct. 14 Arizona-Washington State (3OT) Arizona, 53-47 Oct. 14 UCLA-California (3OT) California, 46-38 Oct. 21 Arizona State-Washington State (OT) Arizona State, 23-20 Oct. 28 Oregon-Arizona State (2OT) Oregon, 56-55 Nov. 4 Oregon-Washington State (OT) Oregon, 27-24 Nov. 4 USC-Arizona State (2OT) USC, 44-38


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