Trojans pull off the great escape against Utes

LOS ANGELES-Utah walked into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum without ever recording a single win inside the legendary football and sports stadium. The Utes left the same way they came in Saturday night. For the USC Trojans, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Sometimes it’s okay being good and being lucky.

The Trojans were both lucky and good against the Utes in their 28-27 Pac-12 Conference victory. Down 21-7 at the half, 13th-ranked USC spotted No. 23 Utah the 14 points to score 21 straight to take a commanding lead before having to hold on for the win when Utah quarterback Troy Williams was tripped up at the one-yard line on a two-point conversion with less than a minute to play in the ballgame.

Utah running back Zack Moss (2) gained 141 yards rushing the football against USC’ in a Pac-12 Conference matchup at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Williams had just drawn Utah to within one point of the Trojans on his one-yard touchdown run after driving his team the length of the field. Battered and bruised all night by that massive Utah offensive line, which opened holes big enough for Utes’ running back Zack Moss to rush for 141 yards, the USC defense stood tall when it mattered.

For a micro-second, it appeared that Williams was going to bee-line it right into the endzone to give Utah the lead back. That didn’t happen as Williams found himself tripped up by a shoelace tackle as he tried to squirm his way to paydirt. After his efforts fell a yard short, Williams, who starred at Los Angeles Narbonne High School, stared up at the scoreboard to see a replay of what happened. Dejected teammates walked off the field.

Of course, USC players had a vastly different response. The reaction of on the field exuberance and celebration was expected from the Trojans considering they had committed three fumbles in the game and were in self-sabotage mode for a good portion of the first half. That’s not mention this contest was for first place in the Pac-12 South Division, so stakes were high for both teams.

USC tight end Tyler Petite leaves a Utah defender in the dust as he completed a 52-yard touchdown throw from Sam Darnold on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

In the end, this game nearly mirrored the USC-Utah 31-27 thriller in 2016 when Darnold made his first career start. He didn’t come away with the win in that game, but Darnold sure as heck put the Trojans in position to pull out this victory with his 358 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Judging the game, it was a tale of two halves played by the Trojans. Outside of Darnold connecting with tight end Tyler Petite for a 52-yard pass-and-catch for a score in the first quarter, the Trojans offense struggled against a Utah defense that came into the game leading the Pac-12 Conference in interceptions.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold scrambles to make a play against the Trojans’ defense. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Perhaps the Trojans’ biggest challenge was holding unto the football. Darnold was responsible for two of three fumbles the team lost. In the meantime, Utah took advantage of USC’s inability to score more than seven points through the first two quarters. After Williams hit wide receiver Demari Simpkins with a perfectly thrown 32-yard touchdown strike with 4: 57 left in the second quarter, it was about as quiet as you’ll ever hear the Coliseum crowd.

Brimming enthusiasm had turned into tempered hope. There were even scattered boos raining down on the field. In the last two years with Darnold under center, the Trojans haven’t been used to its offense going stagnant, especially at home. After beating Utah, USC is now undefeated its last 14 home games. In other words, the Trojans weren’t just going to gently into the night against the Utes.

True to form, Darnold and the Trojans got it in gear in the third and fourth quarters. After hooking up with Petite again, this time on a 17-yard, improvised touchdown masterpiece by Darnold, the shift in momentum had crested on the Trojans’ side. Darnold’s short touchdown toss to Josh Falo tied the game up.

By then, the sense on the field was that Utah’s stout defense was backpeddling. USC running back Ronald Jones II, who rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown, kept the pressure on Utah by breaking one big run after another. His 11-yard scoring run closed out the USC’s scoring for the evening. The Trojans’ defense then finished the job on the win by keeping Williams out of the endzone.

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