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MailTribune.com
  • Notre Dame edges USC, earns title spot

  • LOS ANGELES — For four straight plays in the waning minutes, Notre Dame's defense was backed up to its 1 with its perfect season in peril.
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  • LOS ANGELES — For four straight plays in the waning minutes, Notre Dame's defense was backed up to its 1 with its perfect season in peril.
    And on four straight plays, Southern California got nothing.
    "We're going to fight," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "That's our name. It doesn't matter where we are."
    The Fighting Irish will be in Miami next. With one another hard-nosed victory, they punched their ticket to the BCS championship game.
    Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, and No. 1 Notre Dame secured the chance to play for the national title with a 22-13 victory over USC on Saturday night.
    Everett Golson passed for 217 yards as the Irish (12-0) completed their first perfect regular season since 1988, earning a trip to south Florida on Jan. 7 to play for the storied program's first national championship in 24 years. Notre Dame's raucous locker-room celebration reverberated through the thick concrete walls of the 89-year-old Coliseum after an Irish win for the ages.
    "I'm still in awe," Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "I don't think it's hit anybody yet. We're trying to relish the moment."
    Although they did little with flash on an electric night at the Coliseum, the Irish woke up more echoes of past Notre Dame greats with a grinding effort in this dynamic intersectional rivalry with USC (7-5).
    Notre Dame's impenetrable defense appropriately made that decisive stand in the final minutes, keeping USC out of the end zone on four plays from the Irish 1 with 2:33 to play. After three straight runs yielded minuscule gains, freshman Max Wittek threw incomplete to fullback Soma Vainuku, setting off a leaping, chest-bumping celebration on the Notre Dame sideline and in the Irish sections of the sold-out stadium.
    "Well, that's who we are," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "It's been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points."
    After spending more than a decade looking up at the Trojans, the Irish are back on top of this rivalry with two straight wins in Los Angeles. The school of Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen and Paul Hornung has new heroes now, from the Heisman Trophy hopeful Te'o to Kelly, who took the Irish from unranked to start the season to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 19 years.
    "It's definitely a relief to be able to look at the big picture now, but it's a short window," said Te'o, who had a key interception and became the second Irish defender with three 100-tackle seasons. "We can enjoy this, but then we're going to have to get prepared for one more game."
    The grind-it-out win highlighted an unforgettable season for the Irish, who began the year with questions about their relevancy and survived some uninspiring performances and nail-biting finishes with their unbeaten record intact.
    Notre Dame is likely to face a Southeastern Conference opponent in Miami, but won't know their identities for another week. Alabama and Georgia play for the SEC title in Atlanta.
    "The way we looked at it, if we won all of our games, at least we'd give ourselves a chance," Riddick said. "We've got super confidence as a team now."
    With the Irish offense repeatedly stalling in the red zone against the Trojans, Brindza went five for six on field goals, even hitting a 52-yarder at the halftime gun. After Brindza's school record-tying fifth field goal put the Irish up by nine points with 5:58 left, Marqise Lee caught a 53-yard pass at the Notre Dame 2.
    But after two pass interference penalties, USC failed on three straight runs and an ill-conceived pass against a defense that has allowed just 11 rushing TDs in 30 games.
    "They've had a great goal-line defense all year," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "They've done that to everybody down on the goal line. ... It's just so hard to score touchdowns versus them. When the ball is on the 2-inch line, you'd think you could score touchdowns."
    Wittek passed for 186 yards with two interceptions in his first career start for the Trojans, who completed their tumble from the preseason No. 1 ranking with four losses in five games in an enormously disappointing season. Wittek filled in capably for injured Matt Barkley, but USC is headed to a lower-tier bowl in the first year after its NCAA-mandated two-year postseason ban ended.
    No. 11 Stanford 35,No. 15 UCLA 17
    At Pasadena, Calif., Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns, Kevin Hogan passed for 160 yards and another score, and Stanford beat UCLA to win the Pacific-12 Conference North title and a rematch with the Bruins in the conference championship game.
    The Cardinal (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) found out about 10 minutes before the opening kickoff that No. 5 Oregon (11-1, 8-1) had beaten No. 16 Oregon State 48-24, meaning they had to win to qualify for another shot at UCLA — a game Stanford will host next Friday.
    The Cardinal, who have three straight 10-win seasons for the first time, handed Oregon a 17-14 overtime setback last weekend to put themselves in position to win the Pac-12 North title with a victory over the Pac-12 South champion Bruins (9-3, 6-3), who earned their berth in the title game by beating Southern California 38-28 last weekend.
    The win was the sixth straight for Stanford and their fourth in a row over UCLA, which had a five-game winning streak snapped — its longest in seven years.
    Taylor, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior who carried 20 times, didn't play in the fourth quarter. He raised his career rushing total to 4,134 yards and will need 36 yards in the rematch with UCLA to break the Stanford career rushing record of 4,169 yards set by Darrin Nelson in 1977-81.
    Hogan completed 15 of 22 passes without being intercepted and was sacked twice.
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