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Texas-USC Part 2 a worthy sequel by Hollywood standards

LOS ANGELES -- This was no sequel of their old Hollywood classic from a decade ago, with the brightest stars on both sidelines and two of the game's most-storied programs putting on an unforgettable show.

But this remake had plenty of big moments, an ultimately satisfying follow-up for anyone who wanted to see USC and Texas again at the center of a national showcase.
Chase McGrath, a walk-on freshman kicker from nearby Orange County, booted two critical field goals including a 43-yarder in the second overtime to lift fourth-ranked USC to an thrilling 27-24 victory over Texas on Saturday night.

It was the first meeting between the two teams since Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush captivated the nation in their 2006 national championship game at the Rose Bowl that ended with the Longhorns ending USC's 34-game winning streak for their first national title in 36 years.

Indeed, the nostalgia for that game was rich Saturday: Leinart was honored for his College Hall of Fame induction at the end of the first quarter and Young taunted USC fans with "Hook'em Horns" hand signs before the game. Former USC All-American linebacker Rey Maualuga, now with the Miami Dolphins, even came back to lead the Trojans out onto the field before kickoff.

"We knew it was important to our fan base," USC head coach Clay Helton said, "but it was 12 years ago."

Instead, a kicker and the Trojans -- and not an otherworldly quarterback and the Longhorns -- were the heroes of this one.

McGrath's first field goal, from 31 yards with time expiring in regulation, helped tie the score at 17-17 and send the game into overtime, saving USC from a shocking upset at the hands of a Longhorns team that had lost to Maryland on its home field two weeks ago.

"I always feel like you're going to have one of these games when you're trying to win a championship," Helton said. "That's what great teams do, they're going to have one of these games and they find a way to win."

In front of the first sellout crowd at venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 2014, an audience that at times seemed just as electric for the visiting Longhorns, the Trojans seemed to have finally run out of ways in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

But down 17-14 with 39 seconds left, Sam Darnold shook off a largely uneven performance to put together the kind of drive that has made him an early Heisman frontrunner. His jump pass, on second-and-10 from USC's 48, resulted in a 21-yard completion to freshman running back Stephen Carr that got the Trojans into position for the tying kick.

And McGrath's field goals -- the first of his college career -- were the punctuation on a game that was first a mess of turnovers, penalties and blown opportunities for the first three-and-a-half quarters but quickly turned into a highlight reel of big plays and momentum shifts.

"I just remember just getting swarmed by everyone on the team," a triumphant McGrath said after the game. "I came here a couple months ago and already feel like a part of the team tonight and they feel like brothers to me."

The Trojans have now won 12 straight games, their longest winning streak since 2008-09. The victory gave them their first 3-0 start since 2011.

But the Trojans looked nothing like the brutally efficient unit that rolled up 623 yards against Pac-12 nemesis Stanford the week before. Instead, they played in fits and starts -- mostly just fits -- doing just enough to hold off a feisty Longhorns squad that had a true freshman quarterback making his first road start and was playing without its top offensive lineman.

With sophomore starting quarterback Shane Buechele out for a second straight game because of a shoulder injury, the Horns again turned to Sam Ehlinger, a highly touted recruit from Austin.

It was Ehlinger's first start on the road and his inexperienced showed early, with his first three possessions ended with a turnover on downs, an interception, and a fumble. He didn't get much help either, with senior left tackle Connor Williams -- arguably the Horns' best player -- leaving the game in the first quarter because of a knee injury.

But Ehlinger made enough plays to keep it close, squirting out of danger just enough -- he was sacked five times and hit countless times more -- to keep the Trojans off-balance.

He led the Longhorns on a surprising 14-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman that gave the Longhorns their first -- and only -- lead of the night.

"We wouldn't want it any other way," Ehlinger said about that final drive. "We were excited."

Darnold, who threw two more picks, both to Texas safety DeShon Elliott, finished with 397 yards passing and three touchdowns. One of those picks was returned 38 yards for a touchdown with 30 seconds left in the first half, the Longhorns' only touchdown of the game's first 59 minutes. For Darnold, it gave him something else to work on before heading to Cal in Week 4.

"We learned a lot of things about our offense," Darnold said. "Good things, we got to figure out and learn from."

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Darnold: 'Awesome to be 1-0 every single week'
Sam Darnold praises the effort of freshman walk-on kicker Chase McGrath to step up late and is proud of the team's resiliency in its double-overtime win over Texas.

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