USC football vs. UCLA final score: Trojans comeback in epic rivalry game

USC football receiver Drake London. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
USC football receiver Drake London. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

USC football pulled off a late victory over UCLA after an 18-point comeback

Just call them the Cardiac Kids. USC football rode another late wave to complete their undefeated regular season against UCLA on Friday night.

After falling behind by 18 points early in the third quarter, the Trojans outpaced the Bruins and scored the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.

It was the second-straight Crosstown Showdown victory for USC and the first for USC at the Rose Bowl since 2016.

USC football 43, UCLA 38

The lowdown: USC came out with a lackluster performance in the first half. Kedon Slovis threw an interception on the first drive while UCLA was the first to get on the board. With USC late to get set for the play, Dorian Thompson-Robinson flicked the ball out to Ethan Fernea for a 33-yard score on a bubble screen.

The Bruins struck next, taking advantage of USC’s aggression on a quick pass to Demetric Felton, who waltzed into the endzone from 21 yards out.

With Slovis struggling and the Trojan run game unable to make up for it, it wasn’t until the second quarter that USC was able to muster a response. It was all Drake London on a 65-yard score as the receiver caught a ball from Slovis over the middle then proceeded to bully his way into the endzone.

An interception by Isaiah Pola-Mao set up another score for the Trojans, but they had to settle for a field goal to make it 14-10 instead of tying it up.

That hurt them when UCLA hit paydirt again before the end of the half on a 12-yard pass to Felton, leading 21-10.

Things were looking dire for USC as the Bruins opened the first half with a scoring drive capped by Brittain Brown’s 15-yard run. The Trojans hadn’t scored a touchdown in the third quarter all season, but that finally changed. Slovis hit Tyler Vaughns over the top with a 38-yard strike. USC followed that up with a slant to Amon-Ra St. Brown to trim the game to a one-score deficit at 28-23.

When St. Brown tipped a third-down pass over the middle, UCLA’s Stephan Blaylock came up with the interception. Thompson-Robinson took advantage by finding Greg Dulcich free over the top for a 69-yard score to restore the Bruins’ advantage.

In the fourth quarter, it was Vavae Malepeai who barreled his way across the goal line from 10 yards out to make it close once more.

Talanoa Hufanga was the hero when he jumped a pass and returned the interception to the endzone, but USC was called for a block in the back on the return. The block ultimately didn’t matter as UCLA gifted the Trojans a first down with two consecutive offside penalties before Slovis extended the play and found London for a touchdown. However,

It was up to the defense to keep the Bruins from responding and they did just that. When UCLA narrowly failed to convert a third-and-long near midfield, they hurried to the line to try to catch USC off guard on the fourth-down play. UCLA handed the ball off to Keegan Jones but he was stopped short when he tried to hit the outside.

The Trojan offense wasn’t able to run enough time off the clock though. They punted the ball back to UCLA after a three-and-out. Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins down the field to set up a 43-yard field goal for the lead.

A big return from Gary Bryant Jr. set USC up with great field position across the 50 despite having no timeout remaining. Slovis took a shot on the first play of the drive, finding Vaughns for a critical downfield gain of 35 yards in double coverage. With the Trojans suddenly at the eight-yard line, there were 30 seconds left to play. USC didn’t need that many. Slovis floated a fade to Amon-Ra St. Brown for the winning touchdown, 43-38.

The takeaway: For the third time in five games, USC manufactured a comeback and a late score to secure a victory. The Trojans may not start games well. They may not play beautifully throughout, but they know how to will themselves to a win.

Slovis once again showed nerves of steel to bring USC back. He threw for 344 yards and five touchdowns on a night when he wasn’t even at his best…until the Trojans needed him to be.

USC came into the season with a trio of outstanding wide receivers to lean on and each of them came up huge for the team in the rivalry game. Amon-Ra St.  Brown led the team with 10 catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Tyler Vaughns set up that score with a huge catch, adding to his eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Finally, Drake London finished with five catches for 97 yards including the touchdown of the season.

It was also a big night for Vavae Malepeai, who rushed to 110 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury.

Defensively, the Trojans relied on Talanoa Hufanga, whose impact plays came all over the field once again. He finished with 17 tackles, including two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.

Player of the game: Tyler Vaughns, who came up with huge play after huge play in a game that was full of them for the Trojans.

Stat of the game: Talanoa Hufanga produced his fourth-straight game with an interception against UCLA.

Next on tap: USC will face off with Washington on Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

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