“This is very difficult,” Carroll said. “We had a great opportunity, and we let it get away.” It was the yin and yang of sports, the Bruins giddy with well-deserved victory, the Trojans almost shocked to have this last hurdle block their return to the national championship game. It melded into a wonderful college football experience, the Rose Bowl filled with the blue of UCLA supporters in the center and the end zones solid in the cardinal of USC faithful. And they all stayed and screamed and grew hoarse until the end, more than 90,000 packing the classic stadium, waiting for UCLA to hang on in the closing minutes or USC to finally pull off a comeback. Then, with just less than six minutes to play, USC got the ball back and began to march. Slowly, the yards that had been so hard to come by all night started to add up. An ESPN classic USC quarterback John David Booty, under almost constant pressure all day from the lightning-quick UCLA defense, started to move the Trojans. “We kept thinking something was going to happen all night,” USC offensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “We thought that was going to be in on that last drive at the end of the game. An ESPN classic moment.” Only the classic moment was turned in by UCLA. The Trojans had marched from their own 29 to the UCLA 18. There was just more than a minute to play. USC seemed headed toward a memorable comeback. Only Booty dropped back on third-and-four, was again under pressure, looked for senior wide receiver Steve Smith, and let fly a short pass. That was batted by McNeal, then floated down, hanging in the air for a moment that threatened to become an eternity, before falling back into the arms of McNeal. “He tipped it to himself,” Booty said. “I’ve played a lot of football, but I’ve never seen that before.” After seven consecutive painful losses to USC, after four years of living very much in USC’s shadow, the Bruins were the ones left celebrating. “I felt honored to make that play,” McNeal said. “All I thought about was the streak was over.” It’s hard to overstate the significance of the victory for UCLA. The Bruins denied USC a shot at the national championship against Ohio State, and in an odd twist, instead sent them into the Rose Bowl game. The Trojans have owned this town and the rivalry ever since Dorrell arrived to take on his first head-coaching job. They entered the game ranked second in the country, 10-1 and 12 1/2-point favorite. Dorrell gets his day UCLA was 6-5, unranked, and outside of Westwood, mostly unloved. Dorrell was one step ahead of the beleaguered label, a coach still searching to end whispers he was overmatched, still searching for his defining moment. He had an extra week to prepare for a USC team that was coming off consecutive big games against Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame. But those who thought Dorrell would suddenly get fancy, had worked on trick plays and new formations for USC, had not been paying close attention to Dorrell. His Bruins won by outplaying USC. Won by not making mistakes, by playing outstanding defense, by almost magically taking away the sensational Dwayne Jarrett, by forcing USC into errors and penalties and getting just enough offense. It was impossible not to be happy for Dorrell, this single victory over USC having done more for him than anything from last year’s 10-2 team. “I know how important this win is for the Bruin family,” Dorrell said. “It’s been a long time.” The victory will help Dorrell and UCLA at several levels. It will buoy the Bruins as they go into the Emerald Bowl against Florida State. Help make Carroll and USC a lot more mortal. Help in recruiting, help in returning a much-needed element of pride to the program and alumni. And help establish Dorrell’s legitimacy, mark him as a coach who will be around awhile, who will challenge his USC counterpart. `Just have to believe’ “This is definitely a turning point for Karl,” UCLA center Robert Chai said. “People feel good about going to UCLA again. “You just have to believe. It really doesn’t matter who’s ranked. Just come ready to play.” The Trojans tried not to talk about what might have been. They have still had a remarkable season, but that elite status they’ve claimed the past few years was left one step from their reach by the Bruins. “Give credit to UCLA,” Carroll said. “They made it very difficult for us. They were there for the challenge. “They kept us from doing what we wanted to today. We had no rhythm. We just kept waiting for it to happen, and it just never did.” Loss happened, a stunning and unexpected defeat happened for USC. And one very sweet victory for Dorrell and UCLA. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! PASADENA There were hugs and tears, screams into the cool Arroyo Seco night, UCLA players all but turning the Rose Bowl field into the world’s largest dance party. It was easily the greatest, most important victory of UCLA coach Karl Dorrell’s four-year career. “Respect is back at Westwood where it belongs,” UCLA linebacker Eric McNeal shouted. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESurfer attacked by shark near Channel Islands calls rescue a ‘Christmas miracle’The Bruins celebrated their 13-9 victory over USC Saturday like they had just won the national championship, almost refusing to leave the Rose Bowl field. The Trojans couldn’t run off fast enough. They sprinted to their locker room like it would actually offer respite, a small barrier to a crushing defeat. It was easily the worst loss of Pete Carroll’s six-year USC career. The Trojans had battled so hard, fought back so well from their upset at Oregon State, they were one victory over UCLA from returning to the BCS national championship game for the third consecutive year. But a determined and underrated UCLA team and four consecutive weeks of big games conspired against USC’s return.