USC defensive tackle Josh Fatu. Photo: @Jay Fatu
USC defensive tackle Josh Fatu. Photo: @Jay Fatu

USC awoke Tuesday to find the Rose Bowl dream was really true and not just a football fantasy.

Matt Boermeester kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired as USC completed the greatest comeback in the 103 Rose Bowl games, overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Penn State, 52-49, Monday.

Boermeester’s third field goal of the game came two plays after Leon McQuay III intercepted a pass by Trace McSorley at the Trojans 35-yard line and returned it 32 yards. Boermeester earlier missed 51- and 49-yard field goal attempts in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl Game.

The Trojans trailed 49-35 entering the fourth quarter after allowing a Rose Bowl-record 28 points in the third quarter.

USC cut the lead to 49-42 on a three-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones II with eight minutes, 15 seconds to play. The Trojans tied the score on Sam Darnold’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett with 1:20 left.

The rally from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit was the largest in Rose Bowl Game history. Texas had overcome an 11-point deficit the 2006 Rose Bowl Game to defeat USC, 41-38. The 42-27 deficit in the third quarter overcome by the Trojans was the largest at any point in the game. Washington led Alabama, 12-0 in the second quarter in 1926 before losing 20-19.

“It was an amazing game,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “It’s what fairy tales are made of.”

Darnold completed 33 of 53 passes for 453 yards and a Rose Bowl Game- record five touchdowns with one pass intercepted and was selected as the offensive player of the game as the Trojans (10-3) won their ninth consecutive game following a 1-3 start.

Darnold also set Rose Bowl Game records for total offense — 473 yards — and points responsible for 32 on his five touchdown passes and third-quarter two-point conversions. Both records were previously held by Texas quarterback Vince Young, who had 467 yards of total offense and was responsible for 30 points in the Longhorns 41-38 victory over the Trojans in the 2006 game.

USC defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu was selected as the defensive player of the game after making a team-high eight tackles before a crowd announced at 95,128, the second largest among the past 19 Rose Bowl Games, trailing only the 2014 game between Michigan State and Stanford, whose announced crowd was 95,173.

McSorley threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth score as the Nittany Lions nine-game winning streak ended. McSorley completed 18 of 29 passes for 254 yards.

The Trojans outgained Penn State, 575 yards to 465 yards and led 33 to 23 in first downs. USC converted eight of 15 third down opportunities, the Nittany Lions four of 10.

Penn State coach James Franklin said it “may have been the most exciting Rose Bowl Game ever.”

The Nittany Lions “turned the ball over too much,” Franklin said.

McSorley had three passes intercepted, including each of his first two passes. The Trojans couldn’t capitalize on the first as Boermeester missed a 51- yard field goal attempt, but Darnold threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Burnett after the second.

“You can’t turn the ball over against good opponents and have a chance to win,” Franklin said. “We were really fortunate to be in the lead and in the game the way we were with the amount of turnovers we had.”

McSorley had five passes intercepted entering Monday’s game and only had one game where he had more than one pass intercepted.

After trailing 13-0 in the first quarter, Penn State scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters. Three of the scores came on the first plays of the possessions — Saquon Barkley’s 79-yard run, McSorley’s 72-yard pass to Chris Godwin and McSorley’s three-yard run.

The Nittany Lions last touchdown came on McSorley’s seven-yard pass to Barkley with 1:55 left in the third quarter.

The previous highest-scoring Rose Bowl was in 2012 when Oregon defeated Wisconsin, 45-38.

USC wore a “JM4” helmet sticker to honor former tailback Joe McKnight, who was shot and killed Dec. 1. Jones wore the jersey number, 4, McKnight wore, when he played for the Trojans from 2007-2009.

Both teams were making their first appearance in the Rose Bowl Game since 2009 when the Trojans defeated Penn State, 38-24.

USC made its record 34th Rose Bowl Game appearance, although its participation in the 2006 game has been stricken from the records as a result of NCAA sanctions involving former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. The Trojans have a 25-9 on-field record and 25-8 official record in the Rose Bowl Game.

The Nittany Lions made their fourth appearance in the Rose Bowl Game. They lost 14-3 to USC in the 1923 Rose Bowl Game, the first played at the Rose Bowl Stadium, in a game that started 50 minutes late because the Penn State team was stuck in traffic. Penn State’s lone Rose Bowl Game victory was in 1995 when it defeated Oregon, 38-20.

The game was played on Jan. 2 instead of New Year’s Day as usual because of Tournament of Roses’ “Never on Sunday” policy, which began with the Rose Parade, then extended to the football game.

Officials decided to move the 1893 Rose Parade to Monday, Jan. 2 to avoid frightening horses tethered outside of local churches, which would interfere with Sunday services, according to the tournament’s website.

In 1922, the first time New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday when a Rose Bowl Game would have been played, it was moved to Monday.

This was the 14th time the Rose Bowl Game was played on a Jan. 2 and first since 2012.

–City News Service

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