LOS ANGELES – The Fighting Irish punched their ticket to Miami.
Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, and No. 1 Notre Dame secured a spot in the BCS championship game with a 22-13 victory over Southern California 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 title in 24 years.
Notre Dame’s hard-nosed defense appropriately made the 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.
“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 inspirational linebacker Manti 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.
Te’o, the Heisman Trophy hopeful, had a key interception against USC and became the second Irish defender with three 100-tackle seasons – and he took particular pride in that last defensive stand, which included three straight Trojans runs resulting in nothing.
“It doesn’t matter where the ball is,” Te’o said. “We’re going to protect the end zone at all costs.”
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 from USC freshman Max Wittek at the Notre Dame 2.
But after USC failed on three straight runs at a defense that has allowed just 11 rushing TDs in 30 games, 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 Coliseum.
Notre Dame 22, USC 13
ND—FG Brindza 27
ND—Riddick 9 run (Brindza kick)
USC—R.Woods 11 pass from Wittek (Heidari kick)
ND—FG Brindza 29
USC—FG Heidari 39
ND—FG Brindza 52
ND—FG Brindza 33
USC—FG Heidari 21
ND—FG Brindza 19
|Time of Poss.||34:38||25:22|
RUSHING—Notre Dame, Riddick 20-146, Golson 9-47, C.Wood 8-20,
G.Atkinson 2-15, Team 3-(minus 6). Southern Cal, Redd 12-77,
McNeal 9-38, Lee 1-(minus 1), Team 1-(minus 4), Wittek 4-(minus 15).
PASSING—Notre Dame, Golson 15-26-0-217, Team 0-1-0-0. Southern Cal,
Wittek 14-23-2-186, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Notre Dame, Eifert 4-69, T.Jones 3-40, Riddick 3-33,
Toma 2-34, C.Wood 2-18, Goodman 1-23. Southern Cal, R.Woods 7-92, Lee 5-75, Vainuku 1-10, Grimble 1-9.