July 31, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Trojans comeback kings after thrilling finish to beat UCLA

Amon-ra St. Brown leaped into the night, hauled in the pass, fell into the corner of the end zone, and was immediately surrounded by teammates carrying a message.

In this crazy, pandemic-wracked college football season in Los Angeles, it’s the only message that makes any sense.

“It’s our time!” the USC Trojans shouted. “It’s our time!”

On a desolate, desperate Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, it was indeed their time.

Comeback time. Gasping time. Winning time.

For the third time in five games this season, the Trojans used the final moments to turn a loss on its head, stealing a victory and building a legacy and confirming a culture.

They fought on, and on, and on, and eventually upended upstart UCLA, 43-38, in a game that began with a surprise and ended with a statement.

The surprise was that UCLA and embattled coach Chip Kelly truly seem to be experiencing a resurgence. The Bruins are no longer an underachieving mess; they’re clearly a tougher team than in recent years.

The statement was USC saying, not so fast.

“The definition of fight on,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “Down the stretch they made play after play after play … that’s about as special as it gets.”

It could soon get even more special. The Trojans are 5-0 for the first time since the Pete Carroll glory days of 2006. They already had clinched the Pac-12 South title and are slated to play Washington on Friday at the Coliseum for the conference title and a spot in the celebrated Fiesta Bowl.

It’s been an asterisk-filled season in college football, and very little has seemed legitimate, but Saturday night, USC’s relentlessness was real.

The Trojans trailed by 18 early in the third quarter. They trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter. They trailed by two in the final minute.

But moments after Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 43-yard field goal gave UCLA the lead with 52 seconds remaining, it became USC’s time.

“I knew that if we just had one more opportunity, that they’d make it happen,” Helton said. “That’s who this team is … there was 52 seconds left, I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter if they make this or not, there’s an opportunity for our guys.”

The final comeback began with a 56-yard kickoff return by Gary Bryant Jr., who was stunningly even given a chance to catch the kick.

Highlights from USC’s 43-38 victory over UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

“It was the first time the ball didn’t go over his head,” Helton said. “As soon as the kid kicked it, it was like, oh my gosh, we’re going to have a shot here.”

The next shot was a 35-yard pass from Kedon Slovis that Tyler Vaughns brought down between two defenders.

“I’ll never forget TV’s catch,” Helton said. “I’ll be 80 years old and remember that play.”

The third and final of those shots was the eight-yard, eventual game-winning touchdown pass from Slovis to St. Brown.

“He’s got the nerves of a lion,” Helton said of Slovis.

They all do.

You want comebacks? The Trojans were down 13 in the final three minutes against Arizona State and won. They trailed in the final minute against Arizona and won.

You want pressure performances? In the fourth quarter this season Slovis has thrown 13 touchdown passes with no interceptions.

“We’ve been through the situation so many times, I felt like everyone had their cool,” Slovis said. “The experience from the other games definitely helped.”

On the other side, UCLA’s inexperience in these situations seemed to hurt. The Bruins outgained the Trojans 549 yards to 444 but committed three turnovers that led to 18 points.

“It was a back-and-forth deal,” Kelly said. “They just made one more play than we did.”

One more comeback. One more gasp. One more victory.