STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — New Southern California coach Steve Sarkisian smiled, pumped his fist and threw his arms in the air as his players jumped around the sideline at Stanford Stadium.
All of the emotions that had been lacking for USC the past few years finally came pouring out on the road, against a rival and in front of a national television audience — sometimes even a bit too much. Few things looked pretty for the Trojans on Saturday except for the final score:
USC 13, Stanford 10.
Andre Heidari kicked a career-long 53-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining, J.R. Tavai forced a fumble to end the Cardinal’s comeback bid and the 14th-ranked Trojans upended No. 13 Stanford in dramatic fashion again.
“I think it says a lot that we can come in against this team, in this environment, and the game not really going our way and not really in our favor, just for whatever reason, and find a way to win,” Sarkisian said.
A game that featured an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Sarkisian for standing too close to the field, linebacker Hayes Pullard getting ejected for targeting and athletic director Pat Haden yelling at officials in a weird and wild sideline scene, ended with USC making all the big plays on the field in the closing moments.
With Stanford threatening to tie or take the lead, Tavai came from Kevin Hogan’s blindside to jar the ball loose. Scott Felix recovered at the Trojans’ 26-yard-line with 19 seconds to play, sealing Sarkisian’s first major victory at USC (2-0, 1-0) and dealing a major blow to the Cardinal’s chances of a third consecutive Pac-12 title.
“I just heard everybody screaming. I was just running to the sideline. Coaches were hugging me. I guess something good happened,” Tavai said.
Javorius Allen ran for a career-high 154 yards, Nelson Agholor had a career-high nine receptions for 91 yards and Justin Davis ran for a short touchdown to help USC create just enough offense to win at Stanford Stadium for the first time since 2008.
The Trojans had gained 701 yards while running a conference-record 105 plays in a 52-13 win over Fresno State last week. But Stanford (1-1, 0-1) slowed down Cody Kessler and USC’s up-tempo offense most of the afternoon, holding the Trojans to 59 plays.
Stanford outgained USC 413 to 291 yards but couldn’t overcome its own mistakes. The Cardinal committed two turnovers, eight penalties for 68 yards and Jordan Williamson missed two field goals.
The loss snapped Stanford’s 17-game home winning streak, which was the longest active streak in the country.
“You got to make field goals. You got to take advantage of field position. We just did not,” Cardinal coach David Shaw said.
Kessler underwent an unspecified procedure on one of his toes this week but showed no effects of the injury. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 135 yards and directed the Trojans when it mattered most.
Sarkisian sent his offense on the field for a fourth-and-5 from the 35-yard line before calling a timeout to go for a field goal at the end of USC’s final drive. Heidari then connected from 53 yards, turned around and gestured at the Trojans faithful in the far corner of the crowd.
Heidari had kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play in USC’s 20-17 win over the Cardinal last year in Los Angeles.
“I trusted myself, I trusted the ball, the holder, the snapper. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do what I did last year,” he said.
Stanford still had one last chance to avoid another painful memory.
Hogan completed 22 of 30 passes for 285 yards and put the Cardinal in position to come back before Tavai sprinted from his blindside and forced the fumble to cap an emotional day on the USC sideline.
Pullard was ejected after his hit near the head of Stanford’s Ty Montgomery at the end of a punt return in the third quarter, and Haden was caught by television cameras disputing with officials on the sideline before the fourth quarter.
Haden, who is slated to serve on the new College Football Playoff selection committee the next two years, said somebody from compliance sent him a text message to come down and calm the situation at Sarkisian’s request. He said the incident wasn’t a big ideal.
All the theatrics aside, it was the plays on the field that led the Trojans to victory.
USC stuffed Stanford fullback Daniel Marx on fourth-and-1 from the 3-yard line, and Heidari finished off USC’s next drive with a tying 35-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
Hogan had a 28-yard TD pass to Austin Hooper wiped away by a 15-yard penalty on Remound Wright for an illegal block in the back in the fourth quarter. The Cardinal punted from USC’s 32 instead of trying a long field goal.
Fullback Patrick Skov, brother of former standout middle linebacker Shayne Skov, bulldozed through the line from 2 yards out for the first touchdown of his career — and the only one Stanford scored — in the second quarter.
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