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OREGON STATE 33, NO. 3 USC 31

USC's plans unravel

After tempting fate for weeks, Trojans finally fall, ending 27-game Pac-10 streak

October 29, 2006|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

CORVALLIS, ORE. — Week after week, USC flirted with defeat.

The Trojans blew leads, failed to take the ball away from opponents and held on for dear life as games came down to the final possession.

Despite its nail-biting style, USC dispatched six opponents and was positioned for a run at another national title.

But that dream might have died Saturday, lost amid a flurry of turnovers and mistakes that finally proved too much for the Trojans to overcome.

Oregon State upset third-ranked USC, 33-31, before a rollicking crowd of 42,871 at Reser Stadium.

The Beavers secured the victory by tipping away a possible game-tying two-point conversion pass and recovering an onside kick in the final seconds, sending delirious fans streaming onto the field.

"It was David and Goliath and we just kept saying, 'Chop off their head,' " Oregon State receiver Sammie Stroughter said amid the pandemonium.

The Trojans, though, felled themselves by committing four turnovers and allowing Stroughter to return a punt for a touchdown.

USC nearly overcame a 23-point third-quarter deficit, but could not finish the job against an Oregon State team that was without perhaps its best player, running back Yvenson Bernard.

"It's a great win for them and a very difficult loss for us because we were so hard on ourselves today," Coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't remember the last time we turned the ball over four times, probably the Cal game."

Carroll was referring to USC's 2003 triple-overtime loss at Berkeley, the Trojans' last defeat before starting a 34-game winning streak that did not end until last season's Rose Bowl.

After the Cal loss, USC climbed its way back to the top of the rankings, but finished third in the Bowl Championship Series standings and got shut out of the BCS title game. The Trojans won the Rose Bowl and the Associated Press national title.

A return to another BCS championship game, or even the Rose Bowl, could be extremely difficult. USC entered the game third in the BCS standings. The defeat, which ended the Trojans' 27-game Pacific 10 Conference winning streak, will undoubtedly cause them to drop significantly.

USC must win out against Stanford, Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA to have any chance at their third national title in four years.

"You never know," Carroll said. "I mentioned it to [the players]. You never know, and to think that would be making a mistake. It just gets harder. It just depends on how you finish."

Oregon State Coach Mike Riley preached the same concept to his team, which was 2-3 before victories over Washington, Arizona and the Trojans.

"Our coaches have stayed the course; our team has stayed the course," said Riley, who was a candidate for the USC job when Carroll was hired before the 2001 season. "They'll never forget this game and they'll never forget the lesson learned from fighting through."

The Trojans, who had two weeks to prepare because of an open date last week, fought back from a 33-10 deficit built in part on USC turnovers and mistakes.

Quarterback John David Booty had a pass intercepted in the end zone and also fumbled. Running back Chauncey Washington fumbled twice. Meanwhile, the USC defense failed to cause a turnover for the third straight game.

On a crisp day that began foggy but turned sunny as the game wore on, the Trojans appeared to be on their way to the worst loss in the Carroll era.

Oregon State extended a 16-10 halftime lead by scoring 17 unanswered points during a span of about 4 1/2 minutes in the third quarter.

Quarterback Matt Moore started the run with a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joe Newton. Stroughter's 70-yard punt return two minutes later increased the lead to 30-10 before the Beavers capitalized on Washington's second fumble with Alex Serna's fourth field goal to build a 23-point lead.

Booty brought the Trojans back with a four-yard touchdown pass to Fred Davis at the end of the third quarter and a 37-yard scoring strike to Steve Smith, the Trojans pulling to within eight points when Washington bulled into the end zone for a two-point conversion that made the score 33-25 with 12 minutes 9 seconds remaining.

Serna missed a field-goal attempt and then the Beavers were forced to punt on their next possession, setting the stage for USC's final drive with 2:39 left.

"I felt we had a chance," said Booty, who completed 24 of 39 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. "That's all you really want in that situation is a chance."

Booty completed passes of 32 yards to Dwayne Jarrett and 14 and 22 yards to Smith as the Trojans drove toward the end zone.

"I couldn't even breathe," Oregon State's Newton said. "I was concerned there for my heart for a few minutes."

With seven seconds left and the crowd roaring, Booty fired a second-and-goal pass to Smith on the right side for a touchdown -- the last reception of an 11-catch, 258-yard day for Smith.

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