PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Southern California's dejected players trudged off the Rose Bowl field, oblivious to the celebration going on around them.
Their national championship hopes had just ended.
UCLA knocked #2 USC out of the Bowl Championship Series title game with a stunning 13-9 victory over its cross-town rival Saturday. The Bruins did it with a vastly improved defense and a quarterback starting on three days' notice.
"Give credit to UCLA. They made it a difficult day," said USC coach Pete Carroll, whose team lost for just the fourth time in its last 59 games. "They kept us from doing what we wanted to do. We had no rhythm. We did not anticipate this happening."
Neither did most fans of either team. The Trojans hammered the Bruins 66-19 last season to lock up a second straight appearance in the BCS title game, and figured to win again, if not by such a one-sided score, to make it three in a row.
It wasn't to be.
"I didn't believe it until the clock hit zero. All we wanted to do was stay close and get a chance to win," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "I know how important this win is for the Bruin family. I know that it's been a long time."
Since 1998, to be exact. The Trojans had beaten the Bruins seven straight times. Before that, UCLA beat USC eight times in a row.
Within minutes after the game ended, with crowd of 90,266 still roaring, UCLA's Junior Taylor, Chris Markey and Dennis Keyes jumped the bandstand, grabbed cheerleaders' megaphones and led the delirious fans in cheering for the upstart Bruins.
Patrick Cowan passed for 114 yards and ran for another 55 as UCLA paved the way for a Michigan-Ohio State rematch or an Ohio State-Florida match-up for the national championship January 8th in Glendale, Arizona.
As Pac-10 champions, the Trojans will return to this same field on New Year's Day and play in the Rose Bowl game. The final BCS standings and bowl pairings will be announced Sunday.
The Trojans moved into position for a potential game-winning touchdown before Eric McNeal deflected and then made a diving interception of John David Booty's pass at the UCLA 20-yard line with 1:10 remaining. It was USC's only turnover of the game.
"What a great way to go out in your senior year playing your last game in the Rose Bowl," Dorrell said. "To finish your last game with an interception like that ... I'm sure he'll tell his kids someday how it ended and how he made the stop."
The Trojans got one final shot, but Booty's desperation pass from the USC 12 with six seconds left fell incomplete, and the celebration was on.
Besides having their national championship hopes ended, the Trojans (10-2, 7-2 Pac-10) had their NCAA-record streak of 63 games in which they had scored 20 or more points snapped.
#1 Ohio State locked up its berth in the BCS title game by beating then-#2 Michigan 42-39 two weeks ago in the regular-season finale for both teams. USC moved ahead of the Wolverines in the BCS standings last weekend after beating Notre Dame 44-24.
"I really hate it for the seniors more than anybody," said Booty, a fourth-year junior. "The Rose Bowl is still a big-time game we are glad to be in that and we're going to play our hearts out in that as well. But it is tough when you know what could have been."
The Bruins (7-5, 5-4), winners of three straight, will face Florida State in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Francisco.
The game was delayed briefly with 5:52 remaining after a UCLA punt, when the Bruins gathered for a team huddle a couple of yards onto the field. USC decided to do the same thing, and seconds later, the players began bouncing up and down and waving their arms, triggering offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The coaches and officials made the players keep their distance.
USC then moved to the Bruins' 18 before McNeal's game-clincher on a 3rd & 4 play.
Dorrell decided Wednesday that the more mobile Cowan, who had started UCLA's previous six games, would get the call over Ben Olson, who started the first five games but hasn't played since tearing a knee ligament October 7th. Dorrell had said two days earlier that Olson would get start if he seemed to be up to it in practice.
Cowan completed 12 of 21 passes and carried 10 times. Booty completed 23 of 39 passes for 274 yards and the one costly interception. Fred Davis and Steve Smith each caught 6 passes. Dwayne Jarrett was held to 4 receptions for 68 yards.
"It affected my timing, all the pressure they were bringing," Jarrett said. "They did a great job or switching up their defensive schemes and bringing pressure."
Justin Medlock kicked a 22-yard field goal with 5:45 left in the 3rd quarter and a 31-yarder with 8:49 remaining in the game for the only scoring of the 2nd half.
USC got an opportunity late in the 3rd period when Michael Pitre couldn't handle a swing pass from Cowan that was ruled a lateral, and Sedrick Ellis recovered at the UCLA 44 for UCLA's only turnover. But C.J. Gable was thrown for a 4-yard loss by Christian Taylor and Alterraun Verner on 4th & 2 from the 36.
The Bruins then moved into position for Medlock's second field goal. He leads all Division I-A kickers with 26 field goals in 30 attempts.
With defensive ends Bruce Davis and Fred Hickman pressuring Booty just about every time he tried to pass, the Trojans were held in check until a 1-yard run by Gable with 51 seconds left before halftime capped a 66-yard, 12-play drive and put them on top 9-7.
But USC wouldn't score again, failing to solve the schemes of Bruins first-year defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, a former Washington Redskins assistant.
The Bruins moved 91 yards on their third possession for a 7-0 lead, scoring on Cowan's 1-yard run. Cowan scrambled three times for 54 yards earlier in the 11-play drive. He entered the game having netted 49 yards on 37 carries this season.
"Coach Dorrell told me that if I could make some plays with my feet, I should do it," Cowan said.
After Greg Woidneck's punt was downed at the UCLA 1 early in the second period, a holding penalty against Robert Chai in the end zone resulted in a safety, and that turned out to be the difference at halftime.