Nov. 18, 2006
LOS ANGELES - Twenty minutes from the Rose Bowl. The California Golden Bears went toe-to-toe with the USC Trojans for over three quarters, but USC used a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to foil Cal's hopes for its first Rose Bowl since 1959. Instead, USC won 23-9 and captured the Pac-10 championship for the fifth straight season.
Nate Longshore, who completed 17-of-38 passes for 176 yards in the loss, directed the go-ahead drive in the second quarter for the Golden Bears. After pinpoint passes to DeSean Jackson (36 yards) and Robert Jordan (29 yards), Longshore found Lavelle Hawkins, who managed to hold on despite a brutal sandwich from two Trojan defenders, for a six-yard score and a 9-6 advantage.
The two defenses held strong until late in the third quarter with just over 19 minutes to play, when USC connected on a 49-yard field goal to knot the game at nine.
In the fourth quarter, Cal could not get clicking and USC's offense, bolstered by a vocal sellout crowd of 91,672, began to make big plays. Trojan quarterback John David Booty completed 18-of-31 passes for 238 yards, including touchdown strikes of 25 yards to Dwayne Jarrett and 37 yards to Steve Smith on a back-breaking fourth-down conversion with 8:23 to go.
Cal had a pair of touchdowns called back during the game. In the first quarter, linebacker Mickey Pimentel returned an apparent fumble over 80 yards to the end zone, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Late in the fourth quarter, Marshawn Lynch appeared to have a 70-yard touchdown run, but replay showed his knee had been down after nine yards.
After falling behind by a field goal in the first quarter, Cal had a huge defensive play from Brandon Mebane, who burst through the Trojan line to stuff the running back in the end zone for the Bears' first safety since 2002.
USC also took another step toward a possible berth in the national title game in Arizona against No. 1 Ohio State, a 42-39 winner over No. 2 Michigan on Saturday.
"Wherever they put us, they put us," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We play a great schedule, that's all I know. I'll be the last guy to campaign for us."
The Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10) need to beat No. 6 Notre Dame and crosstown rival UCLA to have a shot at playing in the national title game, although Michigan's performance against Ohio State might have been enough to get the Wolverines in. Those teams have completed their seasons.
"We showed we can handle big-time situations," USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "The Pac 10 title was on the line. There was a lot riding on this game, and you can't expect to blow out a good team like Cal."
The Golden Bears (8-3, 6-2) were shooting for their first Rose Bowl berth in 48 years, but with speedy DeSean Jackson and Pac-10 rushing leader Marshawn Lynch mostly held in check, they couldn't get the job done.
"I think they're hitting their stride," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said of the Trojans. "You have to play your best against them, there's no room for mistake. They didn't turn the football over and we did."
The win was USC's 32nd straight at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a crowd of 91,672 watched anxiously until the Trojans broke the game open in the final period. They're 19-0 in November in Carroll's six seasons as coach.
Cal's 9-6 halftime lead was a surprising score considering the teams are averaging 66.7 points between them and the Bears rank ninth in total defense in the Pac-10. The margin might have been greater had they not committed two turnovers in USC territory.