Andre Heidari foots bill for No. 14 USC in 13-10 win over Stanford

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 07 September 2014 | 12.56

Steve Sarkisian promised USC players and fans the Trojans would play with an exciting style and compete for championships.

After two games, there has been no lack of excitement, controversy and drama — off the field, on the field and along the Trojans sideline.

And unbeaten USC looks like a team that could contend for the Pac-12 Conference title.

The No. 14 Trojans took a major step toward real credibility Saturday with a gritty 13-10 victory over No. 14 Stanford in a Pac-12 opener at Stanford Stadium.

Andre Heidari's 53-yard field goal with 21/2 minutes to play and linebacker J.R. Tavai's sack and forced fumble in the final seconds helped end Stanford's 17-game home winning streak.

"We knew we had to keep throwing a punch and that's what we did," said Trojans tailback Javorius Allen, who rushed for a career-best 154 yards. "We fought like Trojans."

The victory was a stark contrast to last week's rout of Fresno State, a game in which the Trojans pushed the tempo, ran a Pac-12-record 105 plays and rolled up 701 yards.

USC gained only 291 yards in 59 plays against deliberate Stanford. But the defense repeatedly stopped the Cardinal inside the 20-yard line and came up big when the Trojans needed it the most.

"So many times and you go out and win a game the way we did last week and everyone wants to talk about, 'the offense, the offense, the offense,'" Sarkisian said. "Well, we're pretty good on defense too."

And not easily distracted.

The Trojans shook off the controversy surrounding suspended cornerback Josh Shaw before the opener and kept the college football world's attention with its record-setting offensive display against Fresno State.

They went into Saturday's game after several days of mystery surrounding the physical status of quarterback Cody Kessler and defensive lineman Leonard Williams — both of whom played against Stanford.

There was more drama Saturday, as Sarkisian drew a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after a late-third-quarter field goal and then summoned Athletic Director Pat Haden to the sideline to speak with officials. On an ensuing kickoff, Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard, a team captain, was ejected for targeting.

But the Trojans persevered for their second consecutive victory over Stanford.

"We probably played better from that point on in the game than we did at any other point,'" Sarkisian said.

USC players said they never doubted that they would win at a stadium where the Trojans suffered a last-second defeat in 2010 and saw hopes for a national title in 2012 begin to unravel.

"We are a team that knows how to face adversity," said receiver Nelson Agholor, who had a career-best nine receptions. "We want to be able to play the game however it unfolds.

"It could be a game where we're just hitting on all cylinders or a game with a couple stops. To be a solid team, to be a team that wants to do something special, you've got to be able to handle both."

Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed two-field goal attempts.

"When you're not good enough in the red zone, you lose games," Stanford Coach David Shaw said. "You've got to make a field goal. You've got to take advantage of field position.

"We just did not. This is what happens."

USC trailed 10-7 at halftime, but tied the score on a Heidari's first field goal.

Stanford appeared to take the lead on a touchdown pass but a penalty nullified the play.

That set the stage for Kessler, who engineered a game-winning field-goal drive in last season's 20-17 upset of Stanford at the Coliseum.

"I said to the guys, 'Let's finish it right here,'" Kessler said.

USC drove from its seven-yard line to Stanford's 35. On fourth and five, Sarkisian sent out the offense but then called timeout and sent in Heidari, who beat Stanford with a 47-yard field goal in 2013.

With the wind at his back, the senior converted the longest kick of his USC career.

"I wasn't really paying attention to anything," he said. "It was 'snap, hold, kick, eyes back, swing up.' That was the only thing that was on my mind."

Williams, who made a game-high 11 tackles despite an injured left ankle, said the field goal energized the defense.

"We just had so much adrenaline running," he said. "We were like, 'We have to get the stop.'"

Stanford got the ball with 2:30 left and quarterback Kevin Hogan move the Cardinal into field-goal range. But on third down, with less than 25 seconds left, Tavai came off the edge and hit Hogan in the back, forcing a fumble that linebacker Scott Felix recovered to seal the victory.

"I just heard everybody screaming," Tavai said. "I ran to the sideline. Coach was hugging me.

"I guess something good happened."

Twitter: @latimesklein

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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