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McNeal's late interception seals UCLA shocker of USC

Dec 3, 2006 - 1:01 AM PASADENA, California (Ticker) -- Senior Eric McNeal ended UCLA's long losing streak to hated rival USC and sent the BCS race into chaos.

McNeal intercepted John David Booty with 1:10 remaining as the Bruins snapped a seven-game skid in the series with a 13-9 Pac-10 Conference stunner over the second-ranked Trojans.

The Trojans (10-2, 7-2 Pac-10) almost certainly would have opposed No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS national championship game in Glendale, Arizona on January 8 with a victory over the Bruins. USC had dominated the series since 1999, including a 66-19 rout last year.

Instead, idle No. 3 Michigan or No. 4 Florida - which defeated No. 8 Arkansas, 38-28, in the Southeastern Conference title game - will get the chance to face the Buckeyes.

"I know how important this win is for the Bruin family," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "I know that it's been a long time. Believe me, this is my fourth year, and to get it after three feels like a long time."

The Trojans' NCAA record of 63 straight games with at least 20 points also came to an end.

"Give credit to UCLA," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "They made it a difficult day. They were there for the challenge. They kept us from doing what we wanted to do today. We had no rhythm."

Trailing, 13-9, USC got the ball at its 29-yard line with 5:52 left. After picking up a first down on a fourth-down keeper, Booty drove the Trojans to the UCLA 18. But on 3rd-and-4, Booty threw a pass that McNeal tipped to himself and caught with 70 seconds to go.

"What a great way to go out in your senior year, playing in your last game in the Rose Bowl, to finish your last game with an interception like that," Dorrell said. "I'm sure he'll tell his kids someday how it ended and how he made the stop. So it was great for Eric to be able to do that and seal the win for us."

With USC using three timeouts, UCLA could not kill the clock following three rushes by tailback Chris Markey and had to punt with 15 seconds left. But Aaron Perez unleashed a 62-yard punt that took 11 seconds off the clock, and Booty's desperation pass was batted down around the UCLA 35.

"No one believed in us," Dorrell said. "We only believed in ourselves."

Booty completed 23-of-39 passes for 274 yards.

Patrick Cowan threw for 114 yards and ran for 55 and a touchdown for UCLA (7-5, 5-4), which had not played since a 24-12 triumph at Arizona State on November 18. The Bruins will play Florida State in the Emerald Bowl.

"It was a great team win," Cowan said. "It's just about how you finish. We might (not) have the best numbers but we've got victories, and that's what most important."

UCLA took a 10-9 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Justin Medlock with 5:45 left in the third quarter, forced a three-and-out and got back the ball at its 45. On third down, Cowan threw a lateral to fullback Michael Pitre that the fullback dropped, and Trojans nose tackle Sedrick Ellis recovered.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, USC went for it on 4th-and-2 at the UCLA 36, but true freshman C.J. Gable was tackled by linebacker Christian Taylor for a four-yard loss.

Fired up by the stop, the Bruins moved downfield to a 1st-and-goal at the 3 but had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Medlock that stretched the lead to 13-9 with 8:49 to play.

Cowan, who completed 12-of-21 passes, had opened the scoring with a one-yard TD run with 1:35 left in the first quarter.

USC was credited with a safety when the Bruins were whistled for holding in the end zone with 12:21 to go in the second quarter. The Trojans took their sole lead, 9-7, on a one-yard run by C.J. Gable with 51 seconds left in the half.

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