SANTA CLARA — Sam Darnold threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns and engineered a back-breaking 99-yard drive in the fourth quarter to lead No. 11 Southern California to a 31-28 victory over No. 14 Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night.
Darnold threw touchdown passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns to stake the Trojans (11-2, No. 10 CFP) to the lead. He then delivered one of the biggest plays of the game when he stepped up to avoid pressure in the end zone before connecting on a 54-yard pass to Pittman to spark the key touchdown drive in the fourth.
Ronald Jones finished that drive with an 8-yard run that made it 31-21 to cap a productive night where he ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns to give USC its first win in a Pac-12 championship game.
The long drive came after USC stuffed Stanford (9-4, No. 12) at the goal line to preserve the lead. With Bryce Love nursing an injured ankle on the sideline, Cameron Scarlett was stopped on successive runs from inside the 2, including a fourth-down try from the 1 that was stopped by Uchenna Nwosu.
Darnold sealed the game with a 15-yard pass to Josh Falo on fourth-and-2 to let USC run out the clock.
The win gives USC a season sweep against Stanford and will likely send the Trojans to the Fiesta Bowl. USC still holds out hope for a spot in the four-team playoff if there are several upsets in other conference title games on Saturday but the chances appear to be remote.
STANFORD: Love ran for 125 yards and had his FBS-record 12th run of at least 50 yards that set up K.J. Costello's 11-yard TD pass to Kaden Smith that cut USC's lead to 24-21 late in the third quarter. Costello added a 28-yard TD pass to Smith with 2:09 remaining but wasn't nearly consistent enough to keep pace with Darnold. Costello finished 10 for 22 for 192 yards.
USC: The Trojans had a balanced offensive performance with Pittman catching seven passes for 146 yards and Jones doing solid work on the ground. The defense came up with the big stop at the goal line. But it probably won't be enough to overcome the earlier losses at Washington State and Notre Dame to lift the Trojans into the playoff even if they get help Saturday.
Both teams will get their bowl bids on Sunday with USC likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford expected to go to the Holiday Bowl.
Former Cal Bears fullback Eric Stevens now is a Los Angeles City firefighter. He knows what it's like to put others' lives ahead of his own.
Now, his family hopes those will return the favor.
Stevens was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29, soon after getting married to the woman of his dreams.
"The diagnosis and subsequent education they received about the horrific disease was the worst news one could ever imagine," a Facebook post dedicated to "Team Stevens Nation," described.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a debilitating and incurable disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. With a life expectancy between two and five years, paralysis comes much quicker. And there is much unknown about it.
While there are many treatments going through clinical trials that are showing promise, there is still a 50 percent chance those could receive a placebo over the actual treatment.
"There is NO reason why a person with a terminal diagnosis should receive placebo over the actual treatment," the Facebook page explains. "Another downside to these clinical trials is they are a year-long process, and time is the one thing ALS patients don't have. Every single day without treatment is a day lost."
Those can donate to and share the family's GoFundMe page here.
Stevens, now 30, totaled 14 carries for 53 yards, and 13 catches for 82 yards and one touchdown in his career at Cal that spanned from 2008-2012. But despite playing sparingly, he was voted team captain.
He was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2013, but never played a snap in the NFL.
[RELATED: A's Piscotty accepts prestigious Hutch Award]
"Given his strong determination and success in anything he puts his mind to, Eric has chosen to fight and advocate for getting drugs and treatments available to patients NOW," the Facebook group wrote. "Eric's goal with the help of his family and friends is to raise awareness for ALS and act now toward getting treatments available."
Monday was a monumental day in college athletics.
California Governor Gavin Newsom went on HBO and Uninterrupted's "The Shop" to formally sign California's "Fair Pay to Play" act alongside Lakers star LeBron James.
The law will allow college athletes in the state of California to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness, and will make it illegal for universities to revoke a student's scholarship for accepting money. The bill will not pay athletes to play, but it will allow them to sign agents and seek out business deals.
"[Signing the bill] is going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation," Newsom said on "The Shop" prior to signing the bill. "And it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interests, finally, of the athletes, on par with the interests of the institutions. Now we’re rebalancing that power arrangement."
The bill will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Warriors forward Draymond Green has been a vocal proponent of the bill, and he gave Newsom props after the signing.
Newsom's bill has faced blowback from both California schools and the NCAA, as it would make it impossible for those schools to follow the NCAA's amateurism rules. The NCAA has called the bill unconstitutional and will challenge it in court.
The NCAA responded with a statement.
The Pac-12 also issued a statement.
[RELATED: Draymond supports California bill for NCAA athletes]
The signing of the bill is expected to cause an avalanche of states to pass similar legislation and fundamentally change how amateurism and college athletics are viewed.
Well done, Gov. Newsom.