USC 34, Notre Dame 31
-- Twice, Notre Dame was one play away from ending top-ranked Southern California's 27-game winning streak. Twice, including on fourth and nine from their own 26, the Trojans succeeded.
Quarterback Matt Leinart made good on the second of two goal-line runs in the game's bizarre final seconds, scoring from the 1-yard line with three seconds remaining to give USC a 34-31 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame. In rallying from their third halftime deficit of the season, the Trojans (6-0) remain on track for a third consecutive national title.
On the play before the winning score, Leinart attempted to run the ball in from the 2, but fumbled out of bounds near the corner of the end zone, which should have stopped the clock. But the clock initially expired, prompting scores of fans and Notre Dame players to race onto the field. An announcement that the game was not over forced everyone into a sudden U-turn.
For a long while after the game, fans from both teams remained in the stadium. Supporters of Notre Dame (4-2) did all they could -- boo -- but it did no good.
Who could have imagined that on that fourth-and-long play early in the winning drive, Leinart would complete a 61-yard reception to Dwayne Jarrett, who took the ball down to the 13-yard line, setting up the ultimate drama?
Moments earlier, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn directed the Fighting Irish on an 87-yard, eight-play drive in the final minutes, capping it with a five-yard run for a touchdown with 2 minutes 4 seconds remaining.
That gave Notre Dame 31 points, the "magic number" Coach Charlie Weis had referenced all week in regards to USC's margin of victory in the teams' past three meetings.
There would be no leprechauns dancing Saturday. In the end, USC's offense proved unstoppable. USC running back Reggie Bush, fast becoming a Heisman Trophy favorite, scored three rushing touchdowns.
Nonetheless, Notre Dame grabbed a 21-14 lead after Tom Zbikowski scored on a 60-yard punt return that electrified the crowd. USC missed three tackles during the run.
The only problem on the special teams play from a Notre Dame standpoint was that Zbikowski failed to use much clock. Earlier in the game, when the score was tied at 7, Notre Dame had the ball for nearly 10 minutes, while USC had possession for just more than two minutes.
No possession seemed more important early for Weis than Notre Dame's first scoring drive after the Trojans took an early 7-0 lead. On a critical fourth-and-one play from his own 29, Weis opted to go for it, a decision that could have put the Irish in a deep hole.
Instead, Quinn gained one yard, and Notre Dame continued to burn clock with another first down. The Trojans also helped the Irish by committing two costly penalties -- a pass interference and a personal foul -- that moved Notre Dame farther down the field.
Bush opened the day's scoring with a dazzling 36-yard scoring run, during which he cut left then hurdled a falling defender en route to the end zone. The junior moved from the line of scrimmage to the end zone in what seemed a blink of the eye, never slowed by the particularly long grass on the field.
USC took merely three plays on its next possession to return to the same end zone. Leinart hooked up with tight end Dominique Byrd for a 52-yard reception, spurred by a devastating block by Jarrett, which brought the ball to the Notre Dame 9-yard line. Running back LenDale White, USC's third Heisman hopeful, scored from three yards out to give the Trojans a 14-7 advantage in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Quinn used a third-and-nine play to float the ball deep to one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, who used his 6-foot-5 frame to reach over 5-foot-10 cornerback Justin Wyatt in the end zone for a 32-yard score.
Notre Dame made another dramatic play later in the quarter, when Leinart threw a pass to the side of the end zone that was intended for wide receiver Steve Smith. The ball appeared to bounce off the upper back of defensive back Ambrose Wooden, who was covering tightly, and landed in the hands of defensive back Chinedum Ndukwe.
The drive helped Notre Dame enter the locker room at halftime with a 21-14 lead, as the first 30 minutes of the game fulfilled its promise. Long before the game, the scores of people lining the roads miles from the stadium had two things in common: They wore green and gold and held "Need Tickets" signs.
The game lived up to the hype.