Nov. 30, 1996
USC Downs Notre Dame In Battle For Shillelagh, 27-20
LOS ANGELES, CA -- After 13 years, the reign of terror is over. Behind battered quarterback Brad Otton, the University of Southern California battled back from an eight-point deficit and zero offensive yardage in the third quarter to beat 10th-ranked Notre Dame 27-20 in overtime. Otton, knocked out of play in the first series of the game, returned to the field in the third quarter to tally 183 total yards and two touchdown's on 13-of-25 passing.
Last week against UCLA, Otton was forced to watch his team suffer its second overtime loss of the year. It was not going to be that way tonight.
"I definitely knew I was hurt and where I got hurt," said Otton, who was suffering from bruised ribs. "But the worst I felt was last week when I had to come out and watch my team play without me in overtime. I wasn't going to let that happen tonight."
Otton engineered the final USC (6-6) overtime drive, completing all three of his passes, including a 5-yard toss to Rodney Sermons for the game-winning score. Notre Dame failed to reach the end zone with its ensuing overtime possession, with the game ending when USC linebacker Mark Cusano batted down a Ron Powlus pass on fourth down.
"This is an awful way to end the season," admitted Powlus. "This is an awful way to end my career if we don't go to a bowl game. We wanted to send coach Holtz out right, but we didn't."
The Irish (8-3) held the game in the palm of their hands entering the fourth quarter. The Trojans offense did not muster any net yardage in the third quarter, and the first Irish drive of the final period seemed destined to reach the end zone.
They never quite made it.
Powlus' pass was caught my Malcolm Johnson inside the 5-yard line, but the receiver fumbled it away, giving USC possession at its own 1.
"I lost my concentration," Johnson said. "Coach told us after the game just to keep our heads up. But it really is a terrible way to end the season."
After the Irish defense forced the Trojans to punt the football away, returner Allen Rossum added to the USC effort, fumbling the kick and allowing USC to regain possession at the Notre Dame 12.
Otton's 5-yard TD pass to Chris Miller came four plays later, but the failed two-point conversion attempt kept Notre Dame in the lead, 14-12.
"I just lost my concentration," Rossum said. "It was a fair catch all the way and I just didn't make the catch."
The Irish running game pounded its way down the field, as Robert Farmer and Autry Denson brought Notre Dame back into USC territory. Denson, who finished with 160 yards on the ground, carried the ball six times on the eight-play scoring drive, including the 9-yard burst around the right end that put six points on the board for the Irish.
It would not be enough.
Kicker Jim Sanson could not put the ball between the poles on Notre Dame's extra point try, kicking it wide left from Powlus' hold. The missed attempt kept USC in the game, only eight points away in a 20-12 ballgame.
"I let the fifth-year seniors down," said a distraught Sanson. "(The hold) was fine. I need to grow up."
With the majority of the 90,296 voices on their side, USC stuck in the game, and with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter, attacked the Irish defense on the ground and in the air. Delon Washington registered the final blows of the drive on a 15-yard TD run and a carry for the two-point conversion score. Washington finished the game with a team-high 67 yards on 15 carries.
After a questionable ground game all night, the Trojans surprised Notre Dame by putting the ball in the hands of their backs with the win in jeopardy.
Notre Dame stymied the Trojan offense to minimal rushing yards through the first three periods, holding them to 52 net yards. But it was Notre Dame's mistakes that ended the 13-year win streak against USC, including Johnson's and Rossum's fourth-quarter miscues. Also, Emmett Mosley fumbled a first-quarter reception, leading to a USC field goal, and Rossum lost a second-quarter punt to bring the fumble tally to four.
For Rossum and Sanson, it has been a season of ups and downs. After two kick-return touchdowns against Pittsburgh, Rossum's two fumbles put USC in prime field position, a luxury the Trojans enjoyed most of the game.
Sanson, brought into the spotlight in the Texas contest with a game-winning field goal, has a place in the doghouse for himself after missing the extra point. The kicker's inconsistency has hurt the Irish all season, and the costly miss is a prime examply of his, and Notre Dame's rollercoaster season.
The positives for Notre Dame came few and far between in head coach Lou Holtz's final regular-season contest. Renaldo Wynn's 10 tackles, including two for losses, and a sack helped the Irish defense corral the Trojan offense for the majority of the game.
Safety Ben Guilbeaux was the lone force in the Irish secondary, intercepting a Matt Koffler pass in the end zone to stop a USC scoring threat and preserve a 7-6 Irish lead late in the first half.
Denson recorded career-highs with 33 rushing attempts for 160 net yards.
USC's come-from-behind victory not only ended the 13-year dominance for Notre Dame, but may it have also saved the career of John Robinson. USC's legendary coach has been under fire during his team's mediocre season, but he tried to emphasize that a win over Notre Dame should not be a factor in considering his future at USC.
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1OT Total --- --- --- --- --- ----- Notre Dame (10) 0 7 7 6 0 20 USC 6 0 0 14 7 27