LOS ANGELES — The Coliseum stands emptied in waves that flowed onto the field after Stanford's final fumble. Thousands of Southern California fans enveloped the Trojans to celebrate an improbable win secured by an interim coach, an inconsistent kicker and a thin defense that wouldn't break.
USC's surge for Ed Orgeron had just swallowed up No. 5 Stanford's national title hopes.
Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play, and a stalwart defense repeatedly came up big in USC's 20-17 upset of the Cardinal on Saturday night.
Cody Kessler passed for 288 yards as the revitalized Trojans (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) earned their fifth win in six games under the irrepressible Orgeron, who replaced the fired Lane Kiffin in late September. Orgeron immediately returned fun to a dour program — and wins have followed, none bigger than this streak-snapping win over powerful Stanford.
“In our tight-knit family, there was a belief that we were going to find a way to win the game,” Orgeron said. “I'm proud of our young men. This is something that they've wanted for a long time now.”
USC's remarkable defensive performance included two fourth-quarter interceptions and a season-low 17 points from the Cardinal (8-2, 6-2), who followed up last week's win over Oregon by getting knocked out of the BCS title chase and maybe the Rose Bowl race as well.
Heidari nearly lost his job twice this season, and he missed an extra point in the first quarter. But the junior coolly nailed the tiebreaking field goal — and then got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running the length of the field to celebrate it.
“They all said, 'We know you got this. You do it every day in practice,”' Heidari said of his teammates. “They believed in me.”