USC rallies to edge Penn State in wild Rose Bowl

(Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — After 98 combined points and 1,040 yards of spectacular offensive play, the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history rested on the left foot of a Southern California kicker who had already missed two field goals.

Matt Boermeester somehow blocked out the cacophonous tension in the chilly air. He focused only on securing a perfect ending to an epic evening.

"Game was on the line, but you've got to keep true to your technique and trust it," Boermeester said.

His technique was sound. His kick was true. And the Trojans got their storybook finish in Pasadena.

Boermeester hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired , and No. 9 USC rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 52-49 victory over No. 5 Penn State on Monday night in the 103rd edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.

Freshman Sam Darnold passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns while leading a stirring comeback by the Trojans (10-3), who won their ninth consecutive game and triumphed in their first Rose Bowl since 2009. USC trailed 49-35 with nine minutes to play, but persevered to win one of the greatest Rose Bowls ever played.

"It was just two really good football teams playing at the highest level and competing until the absolute, very end," USC coach Clay Helton said. "The greatest players shined brightest on the biggest stage. It's what fairy tales are made of."

Deontay Burnett, who had three TD receptions, caught a tying 27-yard scoring pass from Darnold with 1:20 left to cap an 80-yard drive in 38 seconds with no timeouts available.

Leon McQuay III then intercepted an ill-advised long pass by Trace McSorley and returned it 32 yards to the Penn State 33 with 27 seconds left. In an instant, the Trojans went from preparing for overtime to having a chance to win.

"I didn't know whether to block or celebrate" after McQuay's interception, USC defensive lineman Stevie Tu'ikolovatu said. "I kind of did both."

The Trojans set up Boermeester, and the junior confidently drilled the Rose Bowl winner , sprinting away as it went through the south uprights and set off pandemonium on the hallowed field.

"It's beautiful," McQuay said. "This is a special group of guys. Oh man, this is the time to step up. This is the time to make plays."

McSorley passed for 254 yards and threw two of his four touchdown passes to Chris Godwin for the Nittany Lions (11-3), whose nine-game winning streak ended in heartbreaking fashion.

Saquon Barkley rushed for 194 yards and two TDs as the Nittany Lions (12-2) followed up their 21-point comeback in the Big Ten title game with another ferocious rally, only to watch the Trojans rally back.

"That game doesn't really define us," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "I wouldn't be any more proud tonight sitting here with a win ... after what might have been the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever."

With one jaw-dropping play after another from two talent-laden offenses, the teams obliterated the combined Rose Bowl scoring record in the third quarter, surpassing Oregon's 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in the 2012 game.

BIG 3

The Nittany Lions' offensive stars put together a highlight reel for the ages during a 28-point third quarter. After trailing 27-21 at the break, Penn State scored three touchdowns on its first three snaps of the second half: a stunning 72-yard run by Barkley, a bobbled 79-yard catch by Godwin and a 3-yard TD run by McSorley after an interception return.

BAD THROW

McSorley went 18 for 29, throwing interceptions on his first pass and his last pass. He was left lamenting that final throw in an aggressive attempt to win. "I tried too much to force it to Chris (Godwin)," McSorley said. "He had been making plays for us all game long, so that was the guy in my mind. ... To come back, to climb back like we did and not finish, it hurts."

THE TAKEAWAY

Penn State: The Nittany Lions' magical season culminated in an extraordinary heartbreaker, but this collapse won't hurt their prospects for 2017 and beyond. Penn State is firmly back on the national stage, and a wealth of talent will return to defend the Big Ten title.

USC: Darnold made sure the defense's struggles didn't matter in a legacy-defining performance. He'll be back next year as an immediate Heisman Trophy candidate, although he'll have a new offensive line.

UP NEXT

Although both teams will have gaps to fill from departing stars, Penn State and USC should both be among the top preseason candidates to get to the College Football Playoff next season. After this postseason showcase for recruits and fans, the future is bright for two proud programs firmly restored to their former glory.


USC scores 17 straight to win Rose Bowl thriller over Penn State

Don’t let anyone tell you the Rose Bowl wasn’t the best bowl game of the 2016 season.

USC (10-3) scored twice in the final 90 seconds to win the Rose Bowl 52-49 after trailing 49-35 heading into the fourth quarter. The winning score came courtesy of a Matt Boermeester field goal as time expired. He had missed two field goals earlier in the game, but drilled the 46-yard game-winner down the middle.

His kick was set up by a Leon McQuay interception with 27 seconds left. After USC quarterback Sam Darnold found wide receiver Deontay Burnett for the game-tying touchdown with 1:20 left, Penn State (11-3) attempted to drive for the game-winning score. But quarterback Trace McSorley’s final pass of the game was intercepted.

Penn State trailed 27-21 at halftime and scored 21 straight points in the first 4:34 of the third quarter to take a 42-27 lead.

USC didn’t disappear, however. The Trojans got within 49-42 with 12:36 left in the fourth thanks to a 10-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a Ronald Jones touchdown run. Jones, who normally wears No. 25, wore No. 4 during the Rose Bowl in honor of former USC running back Joe McKnight who was killed in a road rage incident in New Orleans in early December.

And then the game-tying score came in just 30 seconds after the Trojans forced Penn State to punt with 1:50 left. Darnold, a freshman who took over as USC’s starter following a 1-2 start, had 453 yards passing and five touchdowns, the most prolific passing performance for a USC quarterback in Rose Bowl history.

The combined 101 points are the most points ever scored in the Rose Bowl too, smashing the previous record of 83 set in the 2012 Rose Bowl when Oregon beat Wisconsin 43-38.

McSorley had a very good game, but it was sandwiched by a poor start and a poor ending. He finished 18-of-29 passing for 254 yards and four touchdowns. But he had three interceptions. In addition to the game-ending pick, he threw interceptions on his first two passes of the game, allowing USC to take a 10-0 lead early in the first quarter.

Burnett had 13 catches for 164 yards while Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin had nine catches for 187 yards and two scores, including an incredible 72-yard juggling touchdown catch in the midst of Penn State’s third-quarter flurry. The outburst started with a 79-yard touchdown run by running back Saquon Barkley, who finished with 194 yards on 25 carries.


USC’s epic, emotional Rose Bowl win over Penn State is why bowls matter

PASADENA, Calif. — Monday’s Rose Bowl was not a College Football Playoff game. It didn’t feature the highest-ranked teams in the Pac-12 or the Big Ten. It also didn’t get constant TV promotion during the other 30-plus bowl games.

But if you think USC’s 52-49 victory over Penn State wasn’t meaningful, you weren’t paying attention to the riveting four-hour-and-12 minute commercial for how fun and engrossing college football can be. If you weren’t tuned in, you really should’ve seen Trojan coaches and players with tears streaming down their faces after sprinting onto the field to celebrate with each other after kicker Matt Boermeester booted a 46-yard field goal with no time remaining to cap a 17-point rally.

Or you should’ve stared at the dozen of Penn State players frozen on the Nittany Lions sideline as they watched in disbelief of a game where they fell behind 13-0, then battled back just like they had earlier this season when the young team that was unranked in the preseason rallied from a 21-7 deficit against Ohio State to knock off the Buckeyes, or a 13-3 deficit to defeat Minnesota, or that 24-14 score they’d overcome against Indiana, or even that 28-7 hole to beat Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title. This time, though, Penn State wasn’t the one celebrating as the clock showed 0:00.

Or you should’ve walked with Penn State’s spectacular sophomore tailback Saquon Barkley as he waded into the Trojans mid-field celebration to congratulate USC players one by one. I stopped counting at a half-dozen that he approached. Some of the Trojan defenders will probably be having nightmares of No. 26. Not just the eight Trojans who had a chance to bring him down and ended up flailing at air on his 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but the rest of them that marveled at his 194 yards on the night.

Lord knows they’d been warned for weeks by USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast about how tricky it is to try and get a sense of a dynamic runner like Barkley in bowl practices. You end up taking bad angles, which is why many of the Trojans congratulated Barkley and told him how special he was. One Trojan told Barkley how he’s an NFL back and looks forward to watching him in the pros. Barkley nodded and gave a half smile. “It sucks,” he conceded a few moments later as he glanced up at the cheering cardinal and gold crowd to the left of the Penn State tunnel. “This is a tough way for our season to end. It hurts, but really I’m more proud that anything. I’m so proud of our guys and the way we keep battling and keep fighting.”

About 40 yards away, a group of Trojan royalty — legends Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen and Curtis Conway — congratulated their younger brethren and posed for pictures with fans. Many of the Trojan fans had gotten spoiled with all of the success USC had under Pete Carroll. Rose Bowls became almost cliche if they weren’t BCS title games, and then amid hefty NCAA sanctions, the program backslid off the mountaintop.

It’d been almost a decade since USC had won this bowl, dating back to 2009. Heck, many around Southern California didn’t even think any bowl was possible when the Trojans were 1-3 after getting hammered by Alabama 52-6 and then falling to Stanford and Utah. But that seemed like ages ago. Leon McQuay, USC’s safety who dropped a would-be interception in the last minute only to make good and pick off Trace McSorley on the very next play to set the Trojans up for the game-wining field goal, said no one on his team remembered that awful start. Nope, not after this.

“To be honest, I don’t even remember the beginning of the season,” he said. “No one in our locker room does. We’re living in the moment.”

So was USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who celebrated with his wife Toya and their kids as he yelled, “We won the Rose Bowl!”

The 38-year-old Martin quarterbacked Tennessee to the 1998 national title and won two SEC titles, but he called this game with its back-and-forth swings and huge offensive plays the best he’s ever been a part of.

“This is what college football is all about,” Martin told FOX Sports. “It’s not about being perfect. It’s about fighting through adversity and getting better and coming together as a team.”

USC athletic director Lynn Swann was asked if this win, as entertaining as it was, meant the Trojans were back.

“No, if we were back, we’d be playing (next) Monday night (in the national title game),” he conceded. “It’s a building process. He (Trojan head coach Clay Helton) has upped the ante,” adding that a comeback win on this stage with the whole football world watching, says something about that team and its coach.

At his postgame press conference, Penn State head coach James Franklin first praised USC’s team before talking about the raw emotion in his locker room. “Tonight obviously was a small sample in what may have been the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever,” he said. “But that game tonight really doesn’t define us. It’s the whole season. It’s what these guys did. It’s how they persevered. It’s how they love one another. It’s how they care for one another. I couldn’t be more proud. I know this probably sounds crazy, but I wouldn’t be any more proud sitting here tonight with a win. I couldn’t be any more proud of our guys.”

Back in the Nittany Lions locker room, it’s a team built for the future. Maybe no one outside of that locker room had taken Penn State seriously for much of this season, but those days are now over. Lineman Brian Gaia is the only senior who starts on offense. He’s been a part of the Penn State family so long he actually committed to the school back when Joe Paterno was the head coach. He’d be lying if he wasn’t thinking about shutting up the doubters who said this program wouldn’t be back. Gaia’s buddy on the line, Derek Dowrey, another five-year player, was slumped on his stool with his head down. Like Gaia, Dowrey could’ve bailed on Penn State plenty of times to go somewhere else. That probably would’ve been easier. Instead he earned two degrees and was part of a Big Ten championship team.

“The longer I sit here, the more proud I am than I am hurt,” he said. “I’m proud of what these seniors have done. I’m proud of what this whole team has done.”

Sandy Barbour hasn’t been at Penn State as long as Gaia, Dowrey or even Franklin, but the Penn State athletic director has been in State College long enough to see plenty of the drama, and earlier this season she was very vocal in support for Franklin before the Nittany Lions seemed to have turned the proverbial corner.

“These young man are teaching us a lot,” she said, standing outside the locker room. “They’re teaching us about what happens when you pull together and have each other’s backs. That’s their legacy.”

Barbour too has heard plenty about what other people think Penn State football is, and how that cannot reflect on the players in that locker room. “We have really diligent students and young men with great character, and that’s what matters.”

As for any of that concern about how everything outside the playoff games is irrelevant or second-tier, Barbour said any time you have athletes who just love to compete and love playing for one another, it’ll never be meaningless.

Or go ask any of the other 95,000 people at the Rose Bowl who witnessed this one.

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