USC on Monday orchestrated the greatest comeback in Rose Bowl history in a thrilling 52-49 victory over Penn State. The crowd of 95,128 was the second largest in the previous 19 Rose Bowl games.
The Trojans, in making an unprecedented 34th appearance in the annual contest, entered the fourth quarter trailing 49-35 after allowing a Rose Bowl record 28 points in the third quarter. USC trimmed the lead to 49-42 on a three-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones II with eight minutes remaining in regulation. Then they tied the score on Sam Donald’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett with 1:20 remaining.
The winning score came shortly after Leon McQuay III intercepted a pass from Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley at the USC 35-yard line and returned it 32 yards to set up kicker Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard winning field goal. Boermeester had earlier missed tries from 51 and 49 yards.
“It was an amazing game,” said USC Head Coach Clay Helton. “It’s what fairy tales are made of.”
The rally from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit was the largest in Rose Bowl history. Quarterback Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns had overcome an 11-point deficit in the 2006 Rose Bowl game to defeat USC, 41-38. The victory this year gave USC its ninth straight win following a 1-3 start.
Donald completed 33 of 53 passes for 453 yards and a Rose Bowl-record five touchdowns. He was selected as the offensive player of the game for the Trojans as he set a Rose Bowl record for total offense (473 yards) and points responsible (32) on his five TD passes and third-quarter two-point conversions. Vince Young held the previous record of 467 yards of total offense in the 2006 game. USC defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu was selected as the defensive player of the game after making a team-high eight tackles.
The game was played on Jan. 2 instead of New Year’s Day as usual because of Tournament of Roses’ policy of never hosting the parade or football game on a Sunday. The policy dates back to 1893 when organizers feared the parade with interfere with church services along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. In 1922, the first time the New Year’s Day festival fell on a Sunday, the football game was moved to Monday, making yesterday’s game the 14th contest played on Jan. 2 and the first since 2012.