USC win streak intact after wild fourth-quarter finish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Matt Leinart launched himself toward the end zone with Southern Cal's winning streak and its No. 1 ranking hanging in the balance.

Swarmed by Notre Dame just short, the ball went shooting out of bounds and the clock ticked down to 0:00.

Over on the sideline, Charlie Weis raised his arms in what he thought was victory, sending the Fighting Irish and their joyous fans pouring onto the field.

Sorry, Charlie. The top-ranked Trojans weren't done.

After USC coach Pete Carroll sprinted down the field to plead his case, officials put seven seconds back on the clock and the ball inside the 1.

With another chance, Leinart pushed and spun his way into the end zone with three seconds left to cap a chaotic finish and USC escaped with its 28th straight victory, a back-and-forth 34-31 win Saturday over No. 9 Notre Dame.

"You gotta believe you're going to win, the way that happened," Carroll said.

The Irish (4-2), dressed for success in kelly green jerseys, tested the two-time defending champs as the Trojans had never been during their 2½-season run of excellence. But in the end, Notre Dame couldn't come up with one last stop.

"The reaction of the fans being on the field and then seeing how you kind of want it to come out, then seeing the exact opposite all in a matter of minutes," Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said. "People were pretty shocked and devastated."

Leinart had the option to spike the ball on the goal line play to regroup his team or go with what he had. He chose the latter, took it in himself over the left side and got a little help moving the pile from star tailback Reggie Bush.

"I used all 200 pounds of my body to push Matt in," said Bush, who ran for 160 yards on 15 carries with three touchdowns.

Carroll said USC (6-0) never considered settling for a field-goal attempt to send it to overtime.

"We'll be happy to leave South Bend," Carroll said.

Quinn had given Notre Dame a 31-28 lead with 2:02 left, dashing around right end for a 5-yard touchdown, extending his right arm across the goal line with the ball.

But Leinart answered when it looked most bleak for USC, completing a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett on a fourth-and-9 at his own 26.

"You just have to throw it up and hope he gets it," Leinart said. "I'll take my chances with [Jarrett] against anyone in the country. He made a play."

Then Leinart called his own number for the winner.

"I just saw it, I thought it was there and I just wanted to get in," Leinart said. "I didn't want to spike the ball so I made the choice and they were looking down from up above and we got in. That was all that mattered."

He sat on the bench after his score, helmet still on, looking exhausted and waiting for a final kickoff that Notre Dame couldn't turn into a miracle.

"I had no doubt," Bush said. "We never gave up and kept fighting. That's why we're the No. 1 team in the country."

And thanks to the chaotic ending, sports fans saw an it's-over-no-it's-not game on national TV for the second time in a week. The other was Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

Weis tapped into the Fighting Irish's past and even in defeat etched a spot in it for himself and his team. He broke out all the stops, bringing in "Rudy" and Joe Montana to fire up his team and the fans in Friday night's pep rally, and then sent the Irish off in

good-luck green after warmups on Saturday.

"They worked so hard preparing for this game," Weis said. "I thought I'd give them something back."

The Trojans trailed at the half for the third time this season, this time by 21-14 after Tom Zbikowski's 60-yard punt return early in the second quarter gave the Irish their first lead.

But Bush tied the game with a 45-yard scoring gallop early in the third. His second long TD of the game put him over 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game.

Notre Dame got the lead back with a field goal seconds into the fourth quarter, and then D.J. Fitzpatrick missed from 34 yards when the Irish could have gone up by six.

Bush struck again, going around the corner from 9 yards out with about five minutes left to make it 28-24.

Then it was Quinn's turn to have a Heisman moment.

He guided the Irish on an 87-yard drive, completing all three of his passes and finally putting Notre Dame up with 2:02 left.

Quinn finished 19-for-35 for 264 yards.

USC came in averaging 51 points per game, but the Irish put pressure on Leinart and intercepted him twice, the first time since the final game of the 2003 regular season he tossed two picks.

The dynamic backfield of LenDale White and Bush was turned into a solo act, as Bush kept USC in it until Leinart made the plays of the game.

He threw a prefect fade over a defensive back to Jarrett on the huge fourth-down conversion and finished with 301 yards passing.

For a while though, Notre Dame looked ready to add the Trojans to its list of historic streak stopping upsets.

"We believed we could win and I think we showed it on the field," Zbikowski said.

It was Notre Dame that stopped the longest winning streak in NCAA history when the Irish beat Oklahoma and ended its 47-game romp in 1957. In '46, Army had won 25 straight when Notre Dame tied the Black Knights. And Texas had won 30 in a row before losing to the Irish in 1971. Two years later, USC had a 23-game winning streak end in the shadows of Notre Dame's Golden Dome.

On Saturday, USC was too tough, too resilient, to let it happen, and the Trojans are still on track to three-peat.

"If you're waiting for me to say it's a good loss, you won't hear that here," Weis said.