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2017 Pac-12 Football Championship Game

Event: Friday, Dec. 1
TV: 5P / 6 MT on ESPN
Levi’s® Stadium | Santa Clara, CA

2017 Pac-12 Football Championship: Goal-line stand lifts USC past Stanford

Dec 1, 2017

SANTA CLARA – The USC Trojans defeated Stanford 31-28 in the 2017 Pac-12 Football Championship Game, making history as the first Pac-12 South team to win the title and staking their claim for consideration in the four-team College Football Playoff to be announced on Sunday.

"Obviously the reality is we'll need some help," USC coach Clay Helton said, looking ahead to Saturday's games featuring teams ahead of them in the latest CFP rankings. "But we deserve to be in the discussion, especially the way we finished the season. [We're] hot right now."

The Trojans' all-around excellence carried the day on Friday, including explosive plays on both sides of the ball.

The game was dense with big plays, and the athletic feats started early.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold found tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe for a 48-yard reception, the signature play of the Trojans' first scoring drive in the first quarter. Michael Pittman Jr., who enjoyed a breakout night with 146 total yards, hauled in a seven-yard touchdown to stake the Trojans to an early lead.

Stanford answered immediately, as Bryce Love punched in a nine-yard score to open the second quarter. It was the 17th TD of the season for "#HeismanLove," who passed Toby Gerhart (1,871) for second-place in Stanford single-season history. Love trails only former teammate Christian McCaffrey (2,019 yards) on the Cardinal's all-time single-season rushing list.

USC scored 10 consecutive points in the second quarter to open up some breathing room. But Stanford stayed in touch. JJ Arciega-Whiteside's spectacular 42-yard reception in double coverage set up a 1-yard punch in from Cameron Scarlett, trimming the deficit to 17-14 with 34 seconds left in the half.

Ronald Jones II again extended Stanford's lead to 10, at 24-14 with 4:49 left in the third.

But KJ Costello found his roommate Kaden Smith for an 11-yard touchdown with 2:31 ticks left on the clock in the 3rd quarter, cutting the Trojans' lead to 24-21 and setting up the fourth-quarter drama. Momentum was with Stanford to start the final frame, until USC mounted a goal-line stand, including two fourth-and-one stuffs of the Cardinal's vaunted jumbo package.

Darnold, with both feet in his own end zone, then found Pittman Jr. for a 52-yard rocket to spark the Trojans' decisive 99-yard scoring drive. Jones II capped it off with an 8-yard touchdown run to build USC's lead to 31-21 with 4:42 remaining.

Stanford again closed to within three points as Costello found his trusty tight end in Kaden Smith with a 28-yard touchdown catch with 2:09 left. The Card's onside kick attempt went directly out of bounds, however, and USC converted on a fourth-and-two to kill the clock and deliver the Trojans their first Pac-12 Championship in the event's seven-year history.

Sam Darnold was named the Pac-12 Football Championship Games' Most Valuable Player, going 17-of-24 for 325 yards and tossing two touchdowns.

USC, Stanford, and seven additional Pac-12 teams now await their bowling fate. Helton believes the Trojans have separated themselves from other two-loss teams in the CFP mix.

"We're sitting here as a champion. That's important," Helton said. "We sit here with 11 wins. We sit here with an unbelievable strength of schedule. We had the opportunity to show on national TV who we are."

Follow @Pac12Network as bowl selections are announced on Sunday, December 3rd.