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Trojans Know the Way to a Win Over San Jose State

College football: USC scores 22 points in fourth quarter to pull out a 34-24 victory.

September 24, 2000|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One by one, USC went down the list of all the things that could go wrong.

A blocked punt. Penalties and dropped passes. Missed extra points and fumbles.

Finally, after committing all those mistakes, the Trojans stumbled upon something right: Score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

And that was enough for the heavily favored and ninth-ranked Trojans to escape with a 34-24 victory over San Jose State before 56,545 at the Coliseum on Saturday.

"I guess you could say we deserved to lose this game," USC tackle Brent McCaffrey said. "But somehow we found a way to come back."

They overcame their errors, in part, by amassing 572 yards in total offense. Carson Palmer completed 22 of 38 passes for a career-high 338 yards. Sultan McCullough rushed 21 times for a career-high 136 yards.

Equally important, Petros Papadakis had a career-high three touchdowns, the final two bruising runs providing the decisive points.

The victory kept the Trojans unbeaten at 3-0 on a day when other top 10 teams faltered. It marked the second time in as many games that they played inconsistently but pulled out a late victory.

"That's the important thing," linebacker Zeke Moreno said. "We showed some heart."

USC needed some fortitude after a disastrous first half that began with a fumbled kickoff return.

The cavalcade of errors continued when San Jose State (2-2) returned a blocked punt 10 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Then USC receiver Marcell Allmond blew an opportunity to tie the score when he fumbled into the end zone.

The mishaps seemed to give confidence to a San Jose State team that was supposedly a tune-up for the approaching conference season. The Spartans put together three more scoring drives, one of them beginning with a Palmer fumble.

The Trojans mixed in a couple of touchdowns, but even those were tainted by botched extra points.

It all added up to a 24-12 halftime lead for San Jose State.

Trojan Coach Paul Hackett lit into his team in the locker room.

"We were embarrassed on special teams, embarrassed on offense, embarrassed on defense," Hackett said. "The best thing about that, it was a team embarrassment."

The first thing USC needed to do was stop San Jose State's offense. Tailback Deonce Whitaker had run for 50 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Quarterback Marcus Arroyo was on his way to completing 20 of 41 passes for 256 yards.

"I thought we had them," San Jose State defensive tackle John Hammer said. "We should have won."

But Whitaker came out of the game because of tingling in his feet early in the third quarter and the USC defensive front seven clamped down on his replacement, Jarmar Julien.

The Trojans also got the upper hand on Arroyo by mixing zone and man-to-man coverage.

While USC wasn't done committing errors--a wide-open Allmond dropped a pass at midfield--neither team scored in the third quarter and the momentum slowly shifted.

The feeling grew stronger when San Jose State opened the fourth quarter by missing a 35-yard field-goal attempt. All the USC players who had made mistakes were ready to atone.

"That's what surprised me," Palmer said. "We were real calm, real cool on the sideline. We knew we'd have another chance."

With eight minutes remaining, the sophomore quarterback closed the gap to 24-19 with an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antoine Harris.

Minutes later, McCullough fumbled deep in San Jose State territory. But USC did not panic.

"If that had happened in the first half, tempers would have flared," right tackle Faaesea Mailo said. "But when we got to the sideline, we just said it would be OK."

The defense held again and Palmer launched another drive. He passed 28 yards to Steve Stevenson and 29 yards to Keary Colbert. Papadakis bulled his way up the middle for a five-yard touchdown and USC's first lead, 27-24.

There was 2:25 left, time enough for a San Jose State rally. But the defense came through again.

USC cornerback Chris Cash--who had been burned for a 42-yard play that led to a Spartan touchdown in the second quarter--intercepted an Arroyo pass along the sideline.

"We had our opportunities," San Jose State Coach Dave Baldwin said. "We didn't get it done in the fourth quarter when we needed to."

Three plays later, Papadakis scored his final touchdown to put the game away.

"You freak out a little bit when you're losing and it's a little frightening," he said. "But our coaches stayed calm and in the fourth quarter we got done what we needed to do.

"It's not the way we would like to do it, but we got it done."

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