PASADENA—Some games are great and some games are ridiculous but sometimes, if you get lucky, you can walk into ridiculously great.
Monday’s Rose Bowl was that.
It was the kind of thing that comes around every blue moon, or Vince Young.
It was a compilation of every Rose Bowl ever played since Wrong Way Roy– minus any semblance of defense.
The Four Horsemen of 1925 would have had to have been led to water before the end of the third quarter.
It took a team of volunteers and barrels of copy machine ink to compile the game stats, quotes and notes.
This Rose Bowl was so much more than USC beating Penn State, 52-49, on Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard field goal as time expired. That didn’t begin to explain the record-setting 101 points scored in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game.
No final score here could untangle the story of drama, redemption and energy of Monday’s cool-day kookiness. I’ve never seen a team lose a game in which it scored touchdowns on three consecutive offensive plays. Both teams raced out to, and then blew, double-digit leads, in front of a crowd of 95,128.
USC rallied from the biggest fourth-quarter deficit, 14 points at 49-35, in Rose Bowl history.
Trojan freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, who did not start the season for USC, ended it by completing 33 of 53 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns.
“I love the quiet confidence about him,” USC Coach Clay Helton said.
Not enough to start Darnold until the fourth game of the season, but why bring that up now?
Ok, ok, back to Boermeester. Yes, he redeemed himself after missing field goals of 51 and 49 yards. All he had to do in the end was hold his breath and kick.
“Stay true to my technique,” he said, “and trust it.”
Boermeester’s dad, Peter, was a kicker for UCLA, so you know what that son-father meeting was like after the cheering stopped.
“I knew he had been crying,” Matt said.
Penn State scored 49 points in the second and third quarters and none in the first and fourth.
The first four completed passes of the game were thrown to USC. Two of them were thrown by USC quarterback Sam Darnold, the other two (interceptions) by Penn State’s Trace McSorley.
McSorley may have had the best “middle section” of any Rose Bowl played, wrapped around the most forgettable start and finish.
The most ridiculous bum-hero performance, though, was turned in by USC defensive back Leon McQuay III, who faced a lifetime of nightmares after he dropped a late interception that could have set up the Trojans’ game-winning heroics.
Situation I: the game was tied at 49, with less than a minute left and Penn State facing second-and-nine at its own 36.
McSorley back-foot floated a pass intended for Mike Gesicki that McQuay should have picked off.
Oh the agony! McQuay jumped up and down in disbelief, with 46 seconds left, thinking he might have to live with this Rose Bowl moment the rest of his life.
What if his drop led to Penn State’s game-winning field goal?
Incredibly, though, his redemption came on the very next play, when McSorely attempted the same pass in McQuay’s general vicinity.
How many times in life do you get a do-over like this? Some guys in their 60s are still haunted by the memory of dropping a ball in high school.
Oh, you wretched hand of fate…what?
McQuay’s lifetime of regret and remorse lasted from second-to-third down.
He wasn’t going to drop McSorely’s second floater. Leon had only one thought on his mind: “Catch it this time.”
He did, and returned it 32 yards to the Penn State 33, setting up Boermeester’s final crescendo.
It was not a shock that McQuay was smiling, ear-to-ear, in the locker room, more than an hour after the game.
He still had not fully checked out of his uniform, standing near his locker still wearing his game pants, cleats and both gloves.
“I might sleep in it,” said McQuay, still in some stage of post-game shock.
Above his locker, to McQuay’s left as he faced two reporters, was a poster of Texas quarterback Vince Young’s game-winning run in the classic 2006 Rose Bowl win over USC.
McQuay was asked if he remembered that game.
Then he was asked what it was like to play in a Rose Bowl some will compare to that one?
“I don’t really know how to feel right now,” he said.
There was a lot of that going around as fans exited into the night. USC fans were as high as Penn State fans were in shock.
I’ve never seen two coaches so upbeat after a game–one in victory, one in defeat.
Helton is only months removed from a popular #FireHelton movement. He ended up with 10 wins and, likely, a top-five national ranking.
“The energy in that stadium was electric,” Helton said.
James Franklin, the losing coach, also bounced out of Pasadena. He’s an upbeat guy by nature, but he also left town knowing his magical, 11-win season at Penn State was not going to be derailed by one flick of an opponent’s leg. Franklin had just taken part in a special game, in a special place, at a special, post-Sandusky time in Penn State history. No last-second field goal was going to knock the glow off this.
Franklin said he was met in the locker room by players and assistant coaches apologizing to him for their mistakes,
“Sorry?” Franklin said. “Sorry for what? What are you sorry for? We’re all in this together.”
Indeed. Monday at the Rose Bowl was a good place for all of us to be.