By Tim Peterson
(Los Angeles) – It wasn’t until USC’s Isaiah Pola-Mao dove in front of a Jorge Reyna pass in the endzone with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter that the Trojans were able to breathe a sigh of relief. The interception enabled USC to escape with a 31-23 win over Fresno State before 57, 329 at the Coliseum in the season opener Saturday night.
Reyna, who led Downey to a CIF championship and later finished up at Pasadena, threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for another 88 while nearly leading the Bulldogs to the upset.
USC quarterback JT Daniels threw for 215 yards and a touchdown but left in the second quarter with a right leg injury. X rays came back negative and Daniels will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. He was replaced by true freshman Kedon Slovis.
The Trojans jumped on top early marching 81 yards on 13 plays on their opening possession with Daniels connecting with Stephen Carr on an eight-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
Hunter Echols then recovered a fumble by Reyna after a scramble and the Trojans took over at the Bulldog 47.
Five plays later USC was in the end zone again when Carr bulled his way in for a 14- yard run and a 14-0 lead. It looked like the Trojans were ready to roll.
The two teams then traded field goals. Cesar Silva knocked one through from 45 yards out for the Bulldogs with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
Chase McGrath booted a 38-yarder for the Trojans early in the second quarter.
Reyna hooked up with Derrion Grimm for a 34-yard TD strike with just under eight minutes left in the half to cut the lead 17-10. Daniels was sacked and went down, Slovis came on and USC took that lead into the half.
In the third quarter the turnover bug bit both teams. Fresno State coughed it up deep in USC territory to kill a scoring opportunity.
But the Trojans gave it right back when Tyler Vaughns was hit and fumble after a reception and the Dogs were back in business. This time they capitalized with a 46-yard Silva field goal to make it 17-13.
Velus Jones showed off his speed taking the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown and just like that it was 24-13 Trojans with 8:11 left in the third quarter.
After the Trojans forced the Bulldogs to punt, they drove 80 yards on six plays, which included a pass from Slovis to Vaughns down to the two yard line. Vavae Malapeai finished it with a two-yard touchdown run.
Reyna hit Grimm early in the fourth quarter for a 52-yard completion to set up a 28 yard field goal by Silva.
Fresno State still kept pushing the Trojans as later in the quarter Reyna hit Chris Coleman for an eight-yard TD strike to complete a 12-play, 69 yard drive to cut the lead to 31-23 with 6:39 left.
USC was stopped on fourth down with just over two minutes to play giving Reyna and the Bulldogs one last shot. Reyna’s pass looked to be on target but Pola-Mao came over from the middle of the field and leaped in front of the intended receiver Ronnie Rivers to save the Trojans day.
Fresno State had 464 yards in total offense adding 208 yards on the ground to go with Reyna’s 256 through the air. USC had 347 total yards. Malapeai rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown while Carr had 56 and a score.
Each team had three turnovers but in the end the interception by Pola-Mao proved to be the biggest.
Things don’t get easier for the Trojans. Next week they face PAC 12 rival Stanford at the Coliseum.