TWISH: Card rally at USC en route to roses

Todd Husak in the 1999 USC game

He excelled in the mold of John Lynch. His recovery from injury brought to mind David Wyman. It's high time This Week in Stanford History credits Tim Smith for one huge interception this week 12 years ago.

Seven seconds showed on the L.A. Coliseum clock. USC, with fill-in quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst enjoying a record day under center, stood ready to turn a 35-31 deficit into a last-second victory. The Stanford defense dug in with its backs to the end zone, a 4-0 Pac-10 record hanging in the balance. Having piled up 587 of the game's 1,043 total yards, the Trojans surely could gain 16 more – and deal a huge blow to the unranked Pac-10 leader's Rose Bowl hopes.

Queue No. 10.

Smith snared Van Raaphorst's fourth-down pass at seven-yard line, sprinting up the field as time expired. The delirious on-field celebration – this was after all the Cardinal's second win at USC since 1975 – completed a massive comeback during Stanford's most recent Rose Bowl season.

USC led 21-0 in the first quarter. The visitors, without a timeout, trailed 24-7 with 1:39 to play in the first half and the ball at their own 20.

"I think we have a special team, and this is a special year," Troy Walters said.

Like Wyman, Smith recovered from a terrible knee injury. He redshirted the 1997 season after tearing his ACL in Game 2 at North Carolina. Like Lynch, he started his Stanford career as a quarterback, a position that dominated the subplots on this afternoon.

***

Todd Husak threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns. Van Raaphorst, the younger brother of Arizona State's Rose Bowl-winning QB Jeff Van Raaphorst, had 415. That stood as a USC record for three years, broken by the guy he replaced weeks earlier. Carson Palmer was out for the season with a knee injury. Matt Cassel watched with other Trojan recruits from the sidelines.

Brian Allen (15 carries for 121 yards) became Stanford's first 100-yard rusher in two years. Chris Johnson returned an interception 30 yards for a score to give the Card their first lead of the afternoon at 28-24.

Coy Wire's two-yard touchdown run gave Stanford its first points, but only after the Trojans used their first three drives of the game to go up by three touchdowns. The Cardinal collected just 52 yards of offense the entire first quarter.

Not to be deterred, Husak completed passes to 10 different receivers. Walters (five catches, 86 yards) and Tafiti Uso (4 catches, 71 yards) were the biggest contributors. Stanford committed only two penalties. USC (which finished 6-6 in Paul Hackett's second season) was flagged eight times. R. Jay Soward dropped what should have been a 70-yard touchdown bomb early in the fourth after the Cardinal went up 35-31.

Husak followed in the footsteps of Frankie Albert (Glendale High) and Gary Kerkorian (Inglewood), becoming another Southern California-bred quarterback to lead Stanford to the Rose Bowl. His work helped Stanford move to 5-0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1970.

"I'm sure there still are some non-believers out there," said Husak, who didn't start on varsity in high school until his senior year at St. John Bosco in Long Beach.

Facing a 17-point deficit, Husak got busy just before halftime. His 23-yard scoring pass to DeRonnie Pitts – who sprained his ankle on the play and wouldn't return – made it 24-14 and marked the first of 21 straight points for the visitors. Dave Davis' 16-yard touchdown catch capped a five-play, 80-yard march to begin the third quarter.

Van Raaphorst responded, but with one of his three interceptions. Kareem Kelly was open briefly in the flat. Johnson jumped the route and caught the ball in stride, racing 30 yards the other way toward the Stanford rooting section and band. With only 2:11 elapsed since the half, the Cardinal actually led.

***

Paul Hackett would last just one more year at USC, which lost four of six against Stanford between 1996 and 2001. But a good chunk of his recruits later helped Pete Carroll establish his dynasty. Meanwhile, on the field, USC's deficit lasted exactly one play.

Van Raaphorst connected with Soward on a 64-yard bomb to turn the game back around in the Trojans' favor. The two sides would spar until Husak's one-yard sneak in the fourth quarter's opening minutes gave Stanford its 35-31 edge.

***

The Cardinal looked to end the game , possessing the ball with 2:08 remaining. Willingham, who in 1995 called a punt from the USC 31-yard line, sent Husak up the middle on a sneak on 4th and 1 from the Cardinal 45. No dice. No gain, and in came the Trojans for one last chance against the Pac-10's worst total defense.

Smith's save came at the expense of a team that blew a 24-3 lead at Notre Dame a week earlier. "Someone is glancing down on us," USC safety David Gibson said. "Maybe it's payback for the '70s."

The opposing head coach sure grasped the significance. "I mean a lot of old-time Stanford people can tell you there's a lot of disappointment and heartbreak (for Stanford at USC)," Tyrone Willingham said. "This is huge."


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