Southern Cal 24,

Virginia Tech 13

Midway through the fourth quarter last night at FedEx Field, a once improbable question kept gaining credibility: Could 17-point underdog Virginia Tech actually pull off an upset of top-ranked Southern Cal in college football's kickoff game? Not quite.

The Trojans rallied from a three-point halftime deficit and scored a 24-13 victory before 91,666 mostly Tech fans on the strength of three touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Leinart to versatile sophomore halfback Reggie Bush. A 53-yarder put USC into the lead for good midway through the third period and a 29-yarder in the final five minutes provided a cushion.

Still, there was much for the Hokies to be encouraged about. Quarterback Bryan Randall was exceptional at times running and passing while amassing 235 yards in total offense and outplayed all-American candidate Leinart into the third quarter. And redshirt sophomore kicker Brandon Pace made the first two field goals of his career, from 35 and 42 yards.

Also, the Tech defense often played very well, but was beaten badly on each of Bush's touchdown catches.

"I think our team played awfully hard, but you've got to play good too," Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "I am disappointed that about three plays ended up in about 160 yards for them. All three we felt like we were in good coverage, but we need to play the coverage."

Tech gained that 10-7 halftime lead on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Randall to redshirt freshman Josh Hyman and Pace's 35-yard field goal.

The game changed dramatically on an offensive pass interference call on Hyman as he was making what would have been a first down catch at the Trojans 15-yard line about midway through the third period. Instead of a chance to increase that slim lead, the Hokies were penalized 15 yards, and shortly after a punt, Leinart hit Bush with the 53-yarder.

"You can't blame the officials," Beamer said. "I thought it was kind of questionable. I thought it was a great play."

The Hokies credited the Trojans for their resolve.

"They played like the number one team in America in the sense that they capitalized on every mistake we made," tailback Justin Hamilton said.

Bush was stunning with his running and catching, dashing 35 yards down the middle with a short Leinart pass after flicking away free safety Vincent Fuller near the line of scrimmage midway the first quarter. On the 53-yarder, he burst past cornerback Jimmy Williams off the line and took Lineart's pass in stride at about the 15. No Tech defender was within 15 yards when he gathered in a 29-yarder down the right sideline.

"Coach [Norm] Chow was very smart," said Bush, referring to the Trojans' offensive coordinator. "He got me in some fortunate situations when we had mismatches." Added Leinart about Bush, "He's a special player and he showed it."

Beamer also was frustrated at losing one of his outstanding defensive prospects, redshirt freshman linebacker Xavier Adibi, shortly before halftime with a torn muscle in his right arm.

"He can run with those [USC] receivers," Beamer said. "I think he'll be out for some time."

After an uncommon miss by USC kicker Ryan Killeen, the Hokies dominated the final 11-plus minutes of the first half and grabbed a 10-7 lead on Randall's pass to Hyman, who grabbed the ball along the right sideline, dodged cornerback Kevin Arbet at the 5 and dived into the right side of the end zone.

Randall was especially effective on that drive, hitting tight end Jeff King for 22 yards up the middle and split end Richard Johnson for 16 on play-action. He also ran around the left end for 10 yards for a first down at the Trojans 13 two plays before his touchdown pass.

Tech's decision to allow Randall to run so often seemed surprising, because an injury would have forced freshman Sean Glennon into the game. But Randall, who weighs 227 pounds, often has shown tailback power and elusiveness during practices.

"I thought I had a good day overall," Randall said. "There were a lot I'd like to have back, but nobody has perfect days." Randall missed a few open receivers, and fumbled to USC at the Tech 26 with slightly more than two minutes left. Killeen clinched the victory with a 41-yarder with 54 seconds left.

"He made some great plays," Beamer said of Randall. "And he keeps us calm."

Tech's players hope to use this as a springboard for their first experience in the ACC, with defensive end Darryl Tapp saying, "It all comes back to us -- we've got to get in the playbooks and do better the next time."

USC's Reggie Bush runs past Noland Burchette and a diving Vincent Fuller for the Trojans' first score. The sophomore tailback had three TD catches.Virginia Tech's Darryl Tapp, left, shows his frustration as USC celebrates a late field goal by Ryan Killeen (16) that put the game out of reach.