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By AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
LOS ANGELES -- Andre Heidari said Saturday night he and Cody Kessler never dreamed about this, when they left Bakersfield to play football for USC, never dreamed that Kessler and Heidari would take center stage as the Trojans upset one of the country's top teams.
But Andre Heidari also said this was "just another kick."
The reality: Heidari's 47-yard, pressure-packed kick bisected the uprights at the L.A. Colisuem and all but clinched a 20-17 USC victory over No. 5 Stanford in front of a sellout crowd of 93,607.
"It was really fun; that's what kickers live for," Heidari said. "That's why I came to USC, for the competition, to hit a game-winning field goal. I'm just glad I got the opportunity."
Before Heidari, a Stockdale graduate, could perform his heroics, Kessler and the USC defense battled Stanford toe to toe, just nine days after the Cardinal (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12 Conference) had defeated No. 2 Oregon and entered the national title picture.
"We beat Stanford," Heidari said. "It's a good feeling. I'm glad I'm on this team. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Kessler, a Centennial product, completed 25 of 37 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown for the Trojans (8-3, 5-2), who had just 23 rushing yards.
"I knew early in the game it was going to be tough for us to run the ball," Kessler said. "I knew that if we were going to win, I had to make plays with the ball in my hand."
None of the plays were more important than a 13-yard completion to Marqise Lee on fourth-and-2 from the Stanford 48 with 1:23 remaining.
USC interim coach Ed Orgeron decided during a timeout to go for it, risking field position that could given Stanford a shot at the game-winner.
"We felt like we deserved to give our team a shot to win the game, as hard as we had played," Orgeron said. "...I knew I was taking a chance, but I looked in these guys' eyes, and I knew they wanted to go for it."
Kessler hit Lee, who was helped off the field after the game with a deep bone bruise in his shin, for the first down.
"We knew we were going to get Marqise one-on-one, and that we had the slant," Kessler said. "Honestly, I didn't even see him break. I just let go of it hoping he was gonna be there. That's the trust we had."
A few minutes later, Heidari stepped on the field.
"Honestly, it's a regular kick," Heidari said. "It's the same kick, every time: Take three steps back, two steps over, hit your target, pretty much. I just did what I needed to do."
The victory knocked Stanford out of first place in the Pac-12 North Division and kept USC alive in the South. The Trojans still trail Arizona State by a game, and they lost the head-to-head matchup with the Sun Devils. But as the sellout crowd stormed the field after this one, it was clear the Trojans' early-season malaise, which featured upset losses and the ouster of coach Lane Kiffin, are over.
"For some reason, on Monday there was a belief that we were gonna win the game," Orgeron said. "We are a tight-knit family, and there was a belief that we were gonna prepare, and we were gonna find a way to win the game."
Kessler's touchdown came on USC's first drive, a 2-yard pass to fullback Soma Vainuku that gave USC an early 6-0 lead (Heidari missed the extra point, but his night would get better).
Stanford answered with Tyler Gaffney's 35-yard touchdown run to take a 7-6 lead. Kessler responded with two scoring drives, one that ended with Javorius Allen's 1-yard touchdown run -- followed by a two-point conversion pass to Lee -- and another capped by a 23-yard Heidari field goal.
USC led 17-7 at that point, but it wouldn't score again until the final seconds. In the meantime, the Trojans defense kept the team in the game.
Stanford tied the game at 17 with a touchdown on its first second-half possession, and Kessler lost a fumble on the next series. USC's defense stood tall, and Chad Wheeler blocked the Cardinal's field-goal attempt.
Then, with USC's offense still struggling, Dion Bailey and Su'a Cravens each came up with fourth-quarter interceptions. Bailey's stymied a Stanford drive inside the 20, and Cravens, off a tipped ball, set up the game-winning drive.
"The whole game was a grind," Orgeron said. "It could have went any way, any second, and we knew we were gonna have to be exact in what we were doing. ... Outstanding job by our coaches, outstanding job by our defense. It took a total team effort."
Kessler, who played against Heidari in high school and then roomed with him when they were freshmen at USC, led the Trojans to field-goal position. Hediari, who has suffered through an up-and-down season, left no doubt the kick was good, then took off running the other way in celebration.
And USC's Bakersfield boys took down Stanford -- and shook up the college football world -- together.
"We really never talked about it, but it's a dream for me; it's a dream come true," Heidari said. "He was out there praying for me too, telling me, 'Hey, come on, it's a chip shot, you got this.'
"Even though we went to different schools in Bakersfield, we're teammates. We're still there for each other, we still love each other."