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It's Three The Hard Way

USC: Palmer leads final drive and Newbury makes winning kick as Trojans edge Colorado, 17-14.


Sixteen seconds on the clock and David Newbury was praying.

Praying to forget.

The USC kicker had missed two field goal attempts earlier in the evening. He had missed so many important kicks in his career as a Trojan. Now he had one more chance from, well, he didn't know how far away.

"All I knew was, the goal posts looked so skinny," he said.

But Newbury put his final kick between the uprights, turning himself from goat to hero and, in the process, propelling No. 11 USC to a 17-14 victory over Colorado before 65,153 at the Coliseum on Saturday.

For the record, the game-winner sailed 24 yards.

"It may not be a lot of yards," USC quarterback Carson Palmer said. "But that's a big-time kick."

It saved a USC team that had moved the ball up and down the field much of the night, gaining 433 yards on offense but squandering numerous scoring opportunities. A USC team that needed a nine-play, 72-yard drive in the final 1:14 to put itself into position for a victory.

"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Coach Paul Hackett said. "We overcame our mistakes and were still able to win against a good, solid team."

Where do the Trojans (2-0) stand after this game?

On one hand, their victories have come against opponents who have slipped from the rankings with a combined record of 1-4.

On the other hand, USC has showed signs of being the team Hackett hoped for. The veteran defense has played well. The offensive line has looked stronger than it has in years. There have been fewer penalties and mistakes.

According to the players, there is newfound confidence.

"In the past, this team's been kind of scared and nervous," Palmer said. On Saturday, he said, "we knew we'd have a chance to come back."

USC began the game with short slant passes, hoping to kill two birds with one stone.

The coaches worried about the team coming out flat after a bye. The quick hitters resulted in two first downs.

The Trojans also wanted to get Palmer into a rhythm after his 10-for-20 performance in the opener against Penn State. Such was their eagerness that they lined up in multiple-receiver sets and a shotgun on three of the first four plays.

The strategy worked. Palmer finished 25 of 30 for 275 yards and one touchdown. He began with three completions that took USC deep into Colorado territory.

But then receiver Kareem Kelly let a touchdown pass squirt through his arms and into the hands of Colorado defensive back Robbie Robinson.

That wasn't the only squandered opportunity in the early going. Newbury missed his first attempt, a 30-yarder that sailed wide right.

"We dug a hole, we self-destructed," Hackett said. "Those 10 points changed the game."

Though USC scored late in the second second quarter, Palmer throwing an eight-yard touchdown pass to his former Santa Margarita High teammate, Matt Nickels, the game felt like a nip-and-tuck affair.

If there was any question about how Colorado would bounce back from a disheartening loss to rival Colorado State last week, the Buffaloes answered immediately.

On a night when freshman tailback Marcus Houston rushed 25 times for 150 yards, Colorado went 80 yards on a drive that included a fourth-down conversion from its own 29-yard line. Quarterback Zac Colvin threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Javon Green, who made a juggling catch for a 7-7 tie.

The back-and-forth continued.

Colorado was driving in the third quarter when USC defensive end Matt Childers sacked Colvin and forced a fumble. Safety Troy Polamalu--who returned an interception for a touchdown in the opener--scooped the ball up and, a few plays later, tailback Sultan McCullough (28 carries, 91 yards) ran five yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Newbury had a chance to widen the lead but missed his second attempt, this one from 45 yards.

Then Colorado went to reserve quarterback Bobby Pesavento, who threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham. The score was tied again, 14-14, entering the fourth quarter.

The Buffaloes looked as if they might forge an upset with time running out. They had a first down at USC's 26-yard line.

"I thought we were going to win," Pesavento said. "We played hard throughout the game and we fought hard."

Meanwhile, in the USC huddle, "there was a lot of yelling and screaming," linebacker Markus Steele said. "We had to just calm down and take care of our responsibilities."

The defense held, forcing an attempt by Colorado kicker Mark Mariscal, who missed from 40 yards with 1:14 to play.

At that point, as USC began its final drive, Kelly got a chance to redeem himself, catching passes for 24 and 19 yards. Freshman Keary Colbert had two clutch receptions. A personal foul on Colorado put the ball at the six-yard line, and that sent Newbury onto the field.

Waiting to kick, he tried not to think about when USC played at Oregon last season, when he had three crucial misses in an overtime loss.

So he talked with his kicking coach, who told him millions of people outside the stadium neither knew, nor cared about the game. He joked with snapper Joe Boskovich. He reminded Boskovich that the night before, in the team hotel, they had practiced snaps in the hallway.

"I told him this was just like practicing in the hotel," Newbury said.

In other words, Newbury tried to think about anything except being the goat. Anything but his earlier misses.

"Actually, I was less nervous than my other two kicks," he said. "That's the great thing about football. You get a second chance."

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