For most of the night, Bryan Randall was a supreme playmaker, scrambling for first downs and making key passes against a vaunted defense. But in the game's final minutes last night, the Virginia Tech senior quarterback was unable to spearhead an upset against top-ranked Southern Cal at FedEx Field.

With eight minutes remaining, Randall clenched his fists, walked to the sideline and threw down his helmet. Perhaps he knew that the Hokies had squandered the best chance they would have to take a late-game lead.

Flanker Richard Johnson was open over the middle, but Randall misfired on a crucial third and 8 at the USC 25. The Hokies settled for a field goal that closed the gap to one point.

"We definitely had our shot to take over the game and couldn't do it," said Randall, who made his 26th consecutive start.

Randall said the game turned on a third-quarter offensive pass interference call that negated a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Hyman. The reception would have given the Hokies the ball at the USC 12.

The Trojans scored on their next possession and never trailed again. The unranked Hokies entered as significant underdogs, but Randall's legs and arm made a game of it.

Randall threw for 153 yards and ran for 82 yards. Said Virginia Tech linebacker Vince Hall, "He lived up to his name."

It didn't matter that many of the players around Randall lacked experience. The two fullbacks had not played a down before last night. And the Hokies' starting wide receivers were Chris Clifton, who had three catches last season, and redshirt freshman Hyman.

It didn't matter that USC's defense, led by tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, was expected to be just as stingy as last season. The Trojans were first nationally in rushing defense last season, surrendering 62 rushing yards per game, which was a school record.

"We knew [Randall] was that quick," said USC linebacker Lofa Tatupu. "It was just a matter of figuring out where we broke down."

In the second quarter, Randall looked especially sharp as he completed all five of his pass attempts during Virginia Tech's 80-yard drive that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown.

Randall began the drive looking for his tight end (Jeff King) and fullback (John Kinzer). Randall, on the fifth play of the drive, found King, who had an angle on safety Darnell Bing, for 22 yards. Another key play was a completion to Johnson, who was open over the middle, for 16 yards.

Three plays later, Randall hooked up with Hyman for a quick out on the far right side of the field. Hyman eluded cornerback Kevin Arbet and scampered into the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown reception to put the Hokies ahead, 10-7.

"I think we shocked some people tonight," Randall said. "I don't think we shocked ourselves."