LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California doesn’t mind winning the hard way.
The 13th-ranked Trojans pulled off another comeback Saturday, and this one came down to the final hold-the-breath moments.
After quarterback Sam Darnold led USC to three long scoring drives in the second half, the Trojans stopped a two-point conversion attempt by Utah with 42 seconds to play to edge the Utes 28-27.
USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) trailed 21-7 at the half before scoring touchdowns on drives of 98, 88 and 98 yards in the second half.
“Our players made a decision to define our football team in the second half,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “We were beating ourselves in the first half. We had our jaws set to get the job done in the second half.”
Running back Roland Jones capped the USC comeback, going 11 yards up the middle before getting hit and flipping into the end zone. Walk-on kicker Chase McGrath’s fourth point-after proved the difference.
Utah had been shut out in the second half, but answered with a final drive, going 75 yards before quarterback Troy Williams scored from the 2-yard line. Utah (4-2, 1-2) went for the win, but Williams could not find an open receiver, scrambled and was stopped a yard shy of the end zone.
“We played about 80 snaps on defense and had major problems stopping them,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Darnold was on fire and I thought that was the percentage play. If I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing.”
Darnold overcame his tough first half to complete 27-of-50 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns. The Trojans finished with 532 total yards.
“I really didn’t get a rhythm going in the first half,” Darnold said. “If I can just contain the ball, I think we can compete against anyone in the country.”
Zack Moss rushed 20 times for a career-high 141 yards. Williams, making his second start in place of injured quarterback Tyler Huntley, completed 16-of-27 passes for 262 yards.
Williams was a prep star at nearby Narbonne High School, about 17 miles down the Interstate 110 freeway that borders USC.
“I didn’t feel it slipping away,” Williams said. “They’re home and the crowd got loud, but the team we have is unbelievable.
“It just came down to one play. If we make that play, it’s a whole different conversation.”
Jones carried 17 times for 113 yards for USC, which won its 14th consecutive home game.
USC opened the second half by forcing a Utah three-and-out, and driving on its first 98-yard drive. Donald threw a 17-yard strike to tight end Tyler Petite for the score. Petite had earlier opened USC’s scoring with a 52-yard touchdown from Darnold.
“I thought the defining moment of the game was when our defense came out in the second half and getting the stop, and then us going 98 yards to score to open the second half,” Helton said.
Utah: The Utes still can’t find a way to win in the Coliseum. Saturday marked their eighth consecutive defeat to USC in Los Angeles.
USC: The Trojans seem to like to do things the hard way. This was the fifth time in seven games they entered the fourth quarter either trailing or tied.
Utah was going for it in the second half. The Utes succeeded on a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter from their own 30. During their final drive on another fourth-and-one at the USC 39, they faked the run and Williams completed a 37-yard pass to tight end Siale Fakailoatonga to take the ball to the 2.
USC leads the Pac-12 South with four conference games to play. Utah has six conference games remaining.
Utah: Returns home next Saturday to meet Arizona State. After losing 11 consecutive games to the Sun Devils, the Utes have won the last two.
USC: Travels to No. 16 Notre Dame next Saturday for its traditional intersectional game. USC has won 11 of the last 15.
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