Linebacker Eric Gentry deflected Francisco Mendoza’s pass in the end zone on a two-point conversion try with 58 seconds remaining and No. 24 Southern California ended a two-game losing streak with a 50-49 win over California on Saturday.
The Trojans (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) rallied after trailing by 11 at halftime. USC scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, with Austin Jones’ seven-yard touchdown run providing the game-winner.
Gentry’s deflection came moments after Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza threw a 13-yard swing pass to Jaivian Thomas for a touchdown. With no shot at the conference title within their grasp, the Bears (3-5, 1-4) chose to go for the win rather than tying with an extra point.
Mendoza dropped back and scanned the field before lofting a short throw toward wide receiver Brian Hightower near the back of the end zone. The 6-foot-6-inch Gentry leaped to knock the ball away as the Trojans celebrated.
It was the biggest play by Southern Cal’s defense on a day that it forced four turnovers despite giving up 527 yards.
Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams passed for 369 yards and two touchdowns. Running back MarShawn Lloyd added 115 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
Southern Cal’s offense looked much more crisp than it had during back-to-back losses against Utah and Notre Dame.
Cal’s offense was nearly as good.
Mendoza, a redshirt freshman, ran for two touchdowns and passed for another. Jaydn Ott matched his career high with three touchdowns in what could be the final game between the two long-time rivals. Southern Cal is headed to the Big Ten next year while Cal is going to the ACC.
Mendoza passed for 299 yards with an interception.
Both teams piled up more than 300 yards of offense during a wild first half.
Williams and the Trojans, who sputtered in the losses to ranked teams in Utah and Notre Dame, scored on their first three drives. Southern Cal converted two fourth downs on its opening possession while Williams completed 10 of his first 12 pass attempts including a 6-yard touchdown to Austin Jones that pushed the Trojans lead to 17-7.
The first half appeared to end after a long completion from Williams to Lake McCree put USC at the Cal 16-yard line. Officials initially ruled time had run out, and both teams left the field. After consulting during halftime, referees announced that one second still remained on the clock as Cal head coach Justin Wilcox angrily reacted. When both teams returned, Denis Lynch missed a 33-yard attempt.
FANS HOLD PROTEST
The start of the game was delayed for several moments after a group of about 15 fans sat near midfield at Memorial Stadium in protest. It wasn’t immediately clear what the fans were protesting as they sat back to back near the 50-year line in the middle of the Cal logo. Police and security approached the group as players from both teams stood and watched. The fans were eventually placed in handcuffs and escorted away.
USC: The Trojans were staggering coming into the game and down at the half before rallying for the much-need win. Coach Lincoln Riley’s team could have folded in the second half but showed a lot of heart to remain in contention for the conference title.
California: The Bears played maybe their most complete game of the year and still came up short. The defense held up in the first half but couldn’t sustain the momentum in the second half.
The losses to Utah and Notre Dame tumbled the Trojans down the rankings, and they’re likely to remain near the bottom of the poll despite beating an underdog Cal team.
Southern Cal: Returns home to begin a three-game stretch against ranked teams, starting with No. 5 Washington on Nov. 4. After that, the Trojans play No. 8 Oregon and No. 23 UCLA.
California: Travels to face No. 8 Oregon on Nov. 4.