Mark Bradford leaped, grabbed the ball from the air and cradled it against his chest as he fell close to the sidelines in the USC end zone. This was his moment and he wasn't going to let this one get away.
Bradford, for the first time in his Stanford football career, can savor his bragging rights when he returns to his hometown of Los Angeles this year. Somehow, some way, the 40˝-point underdog Cardinal (1-3, 2-3) beat the mighty Southern California Trojans, 24-23, in an improbable Pac-10 contest played out before a packed house at the venerable Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday.
USC, the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the polls entering the game, saw its dream season turn into a nightmare. The Trojans had not lost a game at home since Sept. 29, 2002, when Stanford won, 21-16. After 35 straight home victories, USC has to start over again.
Tavita Pritchard, the untested redshirt freshman quarterback, stepped into an unfortunate situation and wrapped himself in his new role to produce a masterpiece -- in his first career start.
"I saw something in his eyes earlier in the week," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He didn't back down one bit."
Pritchard was thrown into the starting lineup in the aftermath of T.C. Ostrander's seizure last Sunday.
Austin Yancy started six games at wide receiver last year as a true freshman. He found himself on the other side of the ball during spring camp. He remembered how to catch the ball, and he remembered how to run with it after catching it. Yancy never caught a touchdown pass as a wide receiver but he retained his instinct for the end zone.
Pannel Egboh may have lost some of his tremendous skill to injuries the past few years but he never lost his way into the back field. No one gave much thought when he blocked a PAT try in the second quarter of Saturday's game.
"That's a positive," radio announcer Dave Flemming said at the time, searching for anything to hold onto about the game.
Wopamo Osaisai, Nick Sanchez, Bo McNally also picked off passes, giving Stanford six for the season. They had seven all of last year.
And they only won once last year too.
Maybe they were just plain tired of getting bullied around by the nationally-ranked teams from the Pac-10; maybe they were sick of hearing how the football program had fallen into disarray when Tyrone Willingham left
Maybe they just realized how good they are.
"We came into this game and we all believed," Stanford linebacker Pat Maynor said. "We stuck together. We didn't want to play 3 3-4 quarters of a game. That doesn't work. We stepped it up in the fourth quarter."
Clinton Snyder, who has seemingly conquered pain, delivered big-time on defense, play after play after play.
"The defense did an incredible job," Harbaugh said. "They kept us in the game. This is unbelievable; it's a little bit of history. We still have seven to go, but we'll enjoy this one."
Harbaugh -- the guy has been in an AFC Championship game, a Rose Bowl, and has won two national titles as a coach for goodness sakes -- called it "the greatest feeling I've ever felt. I've never been involved in a win like this. The players did it and I love them."
Senior Derek Belch, in his first year as the starting placekicker, calmly hit a field goal and an extra point in the final chaotic minutes.
Stanford couldn't muster much offense in the first three quarters, depending on an opportunistic defense to pave the way. The Cardinal perked up when it began a nine-play, 75-yard drive toward the end of the third quarter. Bradford caught passes of 15 and 37 yards in the drive, culminating in Anthony Kimble's one-yard touchdown run.
Miraculous may be too strong a word for Stanford's frenetic 17-point fourth quarter race. It was more than mere mortal beings, however. Bradford grew up pretending he was Jerry Rice. He may never catch as many career touchdown passes as his idol, but No. 13 is something pretty special.
Stanford needed to convert a pair of fourth down plays in the waning moments. Pritchard faced a fourth and 20 and somehow connected with Richard Sherman for a crucial first down.
The winning touchdown pass to Bradford was also on fourth down.
"I knew he was going to catch it," Pritchard said. "When I saw him, I knew deep in my heart he'd do it."
Stanford, who will try to focus on visiting Texas Christian in its homecoming game on Saturday, willed itself to the win, and had enough panache to believe it could.