SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Travis Wilson gave Utah its biggest victory since joining the Pac-12 four years ago — and earned a little job security, too.
Wilson threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with 8 seconds left to give No. 19 Utah a 24-21 victory over No. 20 Southern California on Saturday night.
“It’s so amazing,” Wilson said. “Words can’t really describe how I’m feeling right now.”
The 6-foot-7 Wilson lost the starting job to Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson last week before taking over in the second half in a 29-23 double-overtime victory at Oregon State.
Wilson put the Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) in position for the winning touchdown when he was flushed from the pocket and scrambled 19 yards, diving as he approached the goal line. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned on review — giving Utah the ball a foot from the end zone.
“I was actually just headed toward the sideline but I saw a little bit more room and I made an extra effort to get the end zone,” Wilson said.
Devontae Booker was stopped just short on the next play before Wilson’s touchdown pass to Clay on a sprint-out to the right side — a catch that also was reviewed before it was confirmed.
“I’m so emotional right now,” Clay said. “I grew up cheering for USC and to score the winning touchdown against them is really special.”
After Adoree’ Jackson returned the kickoff to the USC 28, the Trojans’ last-gasp effort was snuffed when Cody Kessler was sacked by Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick on the final play.
“That was a gut-check,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team is bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons. “USC is one talented team, probably the best talent man-for-man in the conference but we slugged it out with them for 60 minutes.”
Black-clad Utes fans streamed onto the field around some of the Trojans players, who stood motionless, stunned at another last-second loss.
“”That’s our season right now,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We’re living and dying by these moments. It obviously hurts a lot when you lose the way we lost tonight.”
Southern California dropped to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12. USC lost to Arizona State on a Hail Mary play and escaped with a victory over Arizona when the Wildcats missed a last-second 36-yard field goal.
Wilson was 18-for-32 passing for 194 yards and Booker had his fourth straight 100-yard game with 102 yards.
“I’m speechless right now,” Booker said. “We came out here tonight and it started rough, but we came back and fought our butt off to win this game.”
Kessler completed 24 of 32 attempts for 264 yards and Javorius Allen ran for 101 yards, but the Trojans couldn’t convert a late fourth down after opting not to kick a field goal with a 21-17 lead.
Utah forced the turnover on downs with 2:08 to play when Nelson Agholor stepped out of bounds a yard short of the first-down marker at the Utah 27.
After USC gained only 44 yards of total offense in the second and third quarters, Kessler capped a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive with a four-yard TD pass to Darreus Rogers to give USC a 21-17 lead with 10:18 left.
Utah linebacker Jason Fanaika intercepted a ball after it glanced off Agholor’s hands. Three plays later, Booker finally broke loose and ran 24 yards for a touchdown just before the end of the third quarter for a 17-14 Utah lead.
“We wanted to come out here and establish who we are, and let everyone know what Utah is all about,” Fanaika said.
The conference and the country are starting to take notice as Utah takes a prime position on the Pac-12 South race.
Clay took a punt 51 yards to the 16 after running into one of his own blockers. But three plays later, Jackson pried the ball loose from receiver Tim Patrick just shy of the goal line and recovered in the end zone to deny the Utes for the second time at the 1.
After Andy Phillips’ field goal gave Utah a 10-7 lead, Jackson returned a kickoff from deep in his end zone down the right sideline for a touchdown.
On the second play from scrimmage, Kessler threw a lateral pass to Rogers, who had it glance off his hands and figured it was a forward pass. The ball bounded around on the field before Davion Orphey alerted picked it up and ran 53 yards past the stunned Trojans offense, just beating Kessler to the end zone.
Even though Kessler left the game for a couple plays after a hard hit, the junior quarterback led a touchdown drive the other way, culminating in a 10-yard scoring pass to JuJu Smith for a 7-7 tie.
Utah missed an opportunity later in the first quarter when Booker fumbled at 1.
Kessler also lost the ball after driving to the Utah 27 in the second quarter.
The game marked the first time two ranked teams met in Rice-Eccles Stadium since Utah lost to TCU 47-7 in 2010. Utah fans marked the occasion with the largest home crowd in school history at 47,619.