No. 15 Southern California kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive in a back and forth battle against its crosstown rivals in UCLA.
Kedon Slovis found Amon-Ra St. Brown for an 8-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining and the Trojans overcame an 18 point deficit in the third quarter to come from behind to defeat UCLA 43-38 on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
The final drive for USC (5-0) was kick started with a 63 yard kick return by Gary Bryant Jr., where the Trojans were set up at UCLA’s 43.
Slovis then went for the jugular and took a shot on the next play connecting with Tyler Vaughns for a tightly contested 35 yard catch and St. Brown then caught his second score of the game on the next play for the game-winning catch.
“The entire second half, I never saw one kid quit the fight, and just down the stretch just make play after play after play. Great college football game,” USC coach Clay Helton said.
“I knew that if we just had one more opportunity, that they would make something happen. It’s who this team is.” added Helton. “As soon as we called a timeout after that third down of UCLA and there were 52 seconds left, I thought to myself it doesn’t matter if they make
this or not, there’s an opportunity there for our guys.”
Slovis completed 30 of 47 passes for 344 yards and two interceptions, engineering his third game-winning drive of the season.
Vaughns caught eight passes for 110 yards, Vavae Malepeai rushed for 110 yards and a score and Drake London had two touchdown receptions for the Trojans.
UCLA (3-3) junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson finished 30 of 36 for 364 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Senior unning back Demetric Felton rushed for 90 yards and had two receiving touchdowns.
“This isn’t a normal game and this isn’t a normal loss so this one hurts,” Thompson-Robinson said. “But the good thing is we get to go back on Monday and we’ve got one more game, so we can put this one to rest after watching film and move onto next week.”
Felton gave the Bruins a 14-0 and 21-10 lead in the second quarter after catching two touchdowns in the period while breaking tackles off defenders.
Slovis connected with London for a 65-yard touchdown in the second and trailed by 11 at the half.
UCLA tailback back Brittain Brown scored on a 15-yard run in the third to give the Bruins its largest lead of the game, 28-10.
“I feel like at this point, we’ve gone through situations like these so many times, everyone kind of has their cool, and so the experience from those other games, it really helps.” Slovis said on overcoming deficits. “This was probably one of the most difficult situations we’ve had time-wise, but none of the guys seemed fazed of that, so it definitely helps when you’ve been in that type of pressure and situation.”
Vaughns and St. Brown then scored on back-to-back drives to get with five, 28-23 with 4:00 minutes left in the period.
However, Thompson-Robinson connected with Craig Dulcich for a 69-yard touchdown moments later to take a commanding 35-23 lead, but was intercepted early in the fourth by USC safety Talanoa Hufanga.
“I think the energy from the sidelines really helped us,” Hufanga said.
“I haven’t played here in a stadium full of fans. I’ve been here but wasn’t able to contribute at the time. This time, we just had to stay focused. We knew what our task was at hand. We needed to make our plays and make sure we get the win at the end of the day.”
The turnover by the Bruins allowed Malepai to find the end zone on a 10 yard score, followed by London scoring a nine-yard touchdown to take a 36-35 lead with 8:09 remaining.
UCLA drove down the field and ultimately was able to retake the lead with a 43 yard field goal by Nicholas Barr-Mira, 38-36 with 52 seconds left.
Gary Bryant Jr then made one of most crucial special team’s plays of the game with a 63 yard kick return and Slovis was able to connect with St. Brown for an 8-yard score to seal a 43-38 victory.
“I’ve always felt great quarterbacks shine when the game is on the line, and I’ve watched No.9 [Slovis] in three situations just do what championship quarterbacks do,” Helton said. “And he’s done it against this league now his whole career.”
The Trojans next will host the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday vs. Oregon (3-2), hoping to still have a chance at the College Football Playoff with a conference title.
UCLA will conclude its regular season on Saturday at the Rose Bowl hosting Stanford (3-2).