The clock expired at the end of regulation yesterday, and the Notre Dame student section poured out onto the field. Euphoria filled Notre Dame...

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The clock expired at the end of regulation yesterday, and the Notre Dame student section poured out onto the field.

Euphoria filled Notre Dame Stadium, with talk of a return to glory soon to follow.

The Irish had stuffed USC quarterback Matt Leinart just shy of the goal line, but what the clock operator and fans failed to realize was that he had fumbled the ball out of bounds.

Officials put seven seconds back on the clock, and Leinart scored on a second-effort push on a quarterback sneak, giving the top-ranked Trojans a 34-31 victory over the No. 9 Irish. Somehow, the Trojans managed to extend their winning streak to 28 games and preserve their run at an unprecedented third consecutive national title.

The scene after the game’s true ending, as surreal as it was stunning, ended with the Trojans celebrating in the west end zone with their famed song girls, their dynasty still intact, barely.

“It took all day long to get this win,” said USC coach Pete Carroll, who added he never even considered settling for a field-goal attempt to send it to overtime. “It took every second.”

Leinart led the Trojans on the winning drive after Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:04 remaining to give the Irish a 31-28 lead.

But Leinart showed why he is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, converting a fourth-and-nine play to Dwayne Jarrett for 61 yards to set up the winning score. Jarrett dashed past Irish cornerback Ambrose Wooden to put the Trojans deep in Irish territory with 1:23 remaining. Leinart finished the game 17 for 32 for 301 yards and no touchdown passes.

The final play silenced the sold-out crowd at Notre Dame Stadium, which brimmed with optimism throughout the afternoon as the Irish controlled much of the game.

“I used all 200 pounds of my body to push Matt in,” said Reggie Bush, who ran for 160 yards on 15 carries with three touchdowns.

Notre Dame controlled the ball for 39 minutes, intercepted Leinart twice and converted a touchdown on special teams.

But there were no moral victories for the first-year Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis.

“You’ll be waiting a long time for me to say this is a good loss,” he said.

Bush’s three touchdowns helped keep the Trojans in the game and flip what had been a perfect script for an Irish upset.

That all started Friday night, when Weis brought back Joe Montana, Tim Brown and former walk-on Daniel Ruettiger, the inspiration for the film “Rudy.”

The links to the glory days of Irish past continued when Notre Dame took the field in green game jerseys, which Montana made famous in a blowout victory over USC in 1977.

And on Notre Dame’s final drive of the game, Weis could not have planned it any better.

Quinn appeared to be the hero, leading Notre Dame on an eight-play scoring drive in which he completed all four of his passes, then ran for what many fans must have believed was the winning touchdown. He finished 19 of 35 for 264 yards with one TD and one interception.

Great escapes
Top-ranked USC has staged big second-half rallies in its past three road games:
Date Halftime Final
Sept. 24 Oregon, 13-10 USC, 45-13
Oct. 1 Arizona St., 21-3 USC, 38-28
Oct. 15 Notre Dame, 21-14 USC, 34-31