USC kicker Joe Houston saw one field-goal attempt bounce off the right upright.
He watched another sail wide right.
But when it counted most, USC's senior kicker came through.
Houston's 29-yard field goal with just over three minutes left was the difference in USC's 34-33 victory over Arizona State on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
"Redemption is a sweet thing," Houston said.
USC improved to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference with a victory that was not secured until Arizona State's Thomas Weber missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt with less than two minutes left and cornerback Nickell Robey intercepted a desperation pass on the final play.
Arizona State (4-5, 2-4) lost to the Trojans for the 11th consecutive time.
In the days leading up to the game, USC Coach Lane Kiffin had said he was not worried about his team taking Arizona State lightly.
The Trojans, after all, entered the game with three losses, including one against top-ranked Oregon that left USC players gasping for air.
"We're not good enough to overlook anybody," Kiffin said.
The Trojans proved Kiffin right by wasting multiple opportunities to take control of the game and giving up a 100-yard kickoff return.
But the Trojans also blocked two punts and an extra point.
Offensive lineman Tyron Smith helped position the Trojans for the game-winning field goal when he blocked an extra-point try that would have provided the Sun Devils with a 34-29 lead with seven minutes left. Trojans cornerback Torin Harris scooped up the ball and returned it to the end zone for two points that pulled the Trojans to within 33-31.
The Trojans then drove 68 yards in nine plays, Houston splitting the uprights for the go-ahead points with 3:06 left.
The game marked the end of USC's three-game home stand and the start of a season-ending five-game stretch that, depending on how it plays out, could fuel optimism for Kiffin's second season in 2011 or send the program spiraling even deeper into sanctions-fueled purgatory.
After getting burned for 599 yards the previous week against top-ranked Oregon's spread-option offense, USC tweaked its defense for Arizona State.
Unlike Oregon's Darron Thomas, one of the most mobile quarterbacks in college football, Arizona State's Steven Threet is a pocket passer.
Kiffin had addressed the Trojans' lack of an effective pass rush.
"That's something we've not done a great job of this season," he said, "but this is a little bit of a normal team as far as staying in the pocket."
The Trojans went to a 4-2-5 defensive alignment to beef up a secondary that has struggled throughout the season, and then brought pressure.
USC sacked Threet four times in the first half, and tackle Jurrell Casey sacked Threet on a two-point conversion try to preserve the Trojans' 29-27 lead.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who struggled against Oregon, looked as if he might be in for another long night when he overthrew a wide-open Robert Woods on the Trojans' first play.
But the sophomore completed 26 of 37 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions.
USC led, 14-7, at halftime, and appeared to gain momentum when linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted a pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. Mitch Mustain's two-point pass to David Ausberry put the Trojans ahead, 22-7.
The Sun Devils answered with Threet's 21-yard touchdown pass to Gerrell Robinson, but the Trojans once again looked like they might assume control when Barkley and fullback Stanley Havili connected for a 31-yard touchdown pass play.
Arizona State did not waste any time responding, LeQuan Lewis returning the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to pull to within 29-21 with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
The Sun Devils positioned themselves to tie the score early in the fourth quarter when a Barkley pass to Ausberry tipped off the receiver's hands and was picked off by cornerback Omar Bolden, who returned the interception 66 yards for a touchdown.
Arizona State's two-point conversion try failed, however, when Casey sacked Threet.
Arizona State utilized a 54-yard, trick-play pass from receiver Jamal Miles to receiver T.J. Simpson on the first play from scrimmage to set up Threet's eight-yard touchdown pass that put the Sun Devils ahead less than two minutes into the game.
Houston missed field-goal attempts of 27 and 35 yards before the Trojans finally evened the score on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Barkley to running back Marc Tyler.
The Trojans wasted a major opportunity after T.J. McDonald blocked an Arizona State punt on the ensuing possession. On first and goal from the nine, Sun Devils safety Clint Floyd intercepted Barkley's pass in the end zone.