They met at midfield and shook hands firmly. Southern California Coach John Robinson looked at Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce and said:

"Great battle, Earl."

Thus did Robinson sum up a magnificent Rose Bowl game, who by his Trojans, 17-16, over Bruce's previously unbeaten Buckeyes as Southern Cal staked a claim to the national championship.

In three hours of torrid battle it was Heisman Trophy winner Charles White who was the difference between the teams clawing and scratching in front of 105,526 enthralled fans.

He drove for the winning touchdown with 1:32 to play after dazzling runs of 31 and 30 yards in the final drive against a weary Ohio State defense. His 247 yards on 39 carries are Rose Bowl records.

"Charlie White is the best football player I've ever seen," an exhausted and drained Robinson said. "If you don't believe me just go back and look at the fourth quarter. His domination was absolute. He is the great competitor I have ever seen."

In that fourth quarter specifically on Southern Cal's march to the winning score, White controlled the game with six carries. Trojan quarterback Paul McDonald said of the performance: "It was as unforgettable an experience as anyone here will have for a long time."

When the Trojans, unbeaten but tied by Stanford, took over on their 17-yard line with 5:21 left, it looked as if this Rose Bowl was going to be an experience they would rather forget.

After trailing, 10-0, in the second quarter, Ohio State had rallied behind the superb quarterbacking of Art Schlichter and a gang-tackling, big play defense, to lead, 16-10.

"There wasn't a lot to be said when we went out there," McDonald said. "We just all looked at each other and said, 'This is it, our last hurrah. Let's go do it.' And we put together a drive that will be remembered a long, long time."

The Trojans had been close on numerous occasions and gone to the air -- without success. Now, though, they called on their best weapon, White.

He had fought the flu all week, missing practice Sunday, and still felt so bad he vomited just before taking the field today.

But White wasn't thinking about that as the clock wound down. "I was looking at the other guys and saying they have to stop 11 of us, not just me, all 11. I didn't think they could do that."

They couldn't.On the first two plays of the drive MdDonald audibled at the line of scrimmage, both times sending White off the right side, once off guard, once outside the tackle, following fullback Marcus Allen through the holes.

On the first play, White went 31 yards to the USC 48. On the second play he picked up 30 to the OSU 22.

"It was execution," White said. "My blockers got me going and I was off to the races."

Wary of leaving a tired runner in the game, Robinson pulled White for two plays. Backup Mike Hayes and Allen picked up 11 yards for a first down at the 11. Then White retured for the coup de grace.

First, three yards to the eight. Then five, then two for a first down a foot from the goal line.Finally, again behind Allen, White burst into the end zone. Eric Hipp kicked the extra point and the Pacific-10 had its sixth straight Rose Bowl win and 10th in 11 years.

First, though, Schlichter had to be stopped one more time. The 6-foot-2 sophomore had picked apart the suspect Trojan seconday all afternoon. But now, the defense was aroused.

"There wasn't much time so we were trying to pass to the outside," Schlichter said. "They were double-covering out there so, finally, on the last play we tried the middle."

The middle worked no better than the outside had on three previous plays. Ronnie Lott tipped the pass away from Gary Williams and Robinson had his third Rose Bowl win in four years as coach at USC.

Who, Robinson was asked, is No. 1 in the country, 12-0 Alabama or 11-0-1 USC?

"All I can say is we played a great football game and beat a team that was ranked No. 1," Robinson said. "And we beat them in as dramatic a game as you could see.

"We deserve consideration. So does Alabama. We played a very difficult schedule and a great game today. I have a pretty good idea who I'm going to vote for (in the UPI coaches poll)."

Bruce, who does not have a vote, said, "It can't be us so I'd vote Southern Cal No. 1."

Early in the game, the Trojans manhandled Ohio State, a 7 1/2 point underdog.

After an interception and a failure to convert on fourth down from the OSU five stopped them on their first two possessions, the Trojans got a 41-yard Hipp field goal, 4:42 left in the first quarter.

Then, after the defense had stopped the Buckeyes four times from inside the two-yard line (Bruce said he didn't consider a field goal on fourth down and a foot), USC extended its lead to 10-0. McDonald caught OSU in a blitz and threw a 53-yard strike to Kevin Williams, who had a step on cornerback Ray Ellis. That came with 9:11 left in the half.

Schlichter then took his team 62 yards to a 35-yard field goal by Vlade Janakievski with 3:10 to play in the half.

After Todd Bell stripped the ball from White at the end of a beautiful 45-yard run and Jim Laughlin recovered for OSU, Schlichter struck again.

On third and one from his 33, he faked to halfback Cal Murray, freezing the drawn-in defense for a split second. That gave Gary Williams (three catches, 131 yards) time to get a step on Herb Ward. Schlichter hit Williams on the numbers and it was 10-10 with 21 seconds left before intermission.

"They were looking for a running play, something so we could keep the ball and not punt," Schlichter said. "Donley was double-covered all day so we thought Williams could get deep one on one. He did."

Schlichter continued his assault in the third quarter, taking the Buckeyes to a 37-yard Janakievski field goal on their first possession of that half.

Southern Cal then had a golden opportunity to go back on top. After the Trojans stalled at the OSU 25, Hipp missed a 42-yard field goal but was roughed on the play by Vince Skillings.

The Trojans were in business at the 12.

Three plays later McDonald hit James Hunter for what appeared to be a first down at the one. But Vic Rakhshani was called for offensive pass interference in the end zone. Under college rules, the defense has a choice on offensive pass interference in the end zone, of taking the yardage or the ball at the 20 -- regardless of the down. Naturally, OSU took the ball.

That play loomed large when Janakievski made it 16-10 with his third field goal (a Rose Bowl record) with 9:42 left. It loomed larger when McDonald overthrew Dan Garcia in the end zone on fourth down and four from the Ohio State 24 with 7:05 left.

But Ohio State couldn't move and the Southern Cal offense had its last hurrah.