BILL PLASCHKE

Sportsmanship takes a timeout in USC-UCLA game

Crosstown duel between the Trojans and Bruins turns even uglier at the finish.

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At the end of a long, brutal fight, Pete Carroll extended an olive branch.

Rick Neuheisel poked him with it.

In the final seconds of a game that had already been decided, Pete Carroll made a common gesture to save players while allowing UCLA to save face.

Rick Neuheisel swung at him with it.

For more than three hours, the two disillusioned locals played through a season's worth of problems to produce a tough and classy crosstown rivalry game.

Then, acting like a brat, Rick Neuheisel changed all of it.

In a classic turned catfight, Saturday night was all right for spiting, a snubbing becoming a taunting becoming a touchdown that nearly led to a brawl.

Yeah, only one of the nuttiest 54-second stretches in the last 79 years.

The final score was USC 28, UCLA 7, but only after Damian Williams caught a 48-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley in the final minute that symbolized an angry Carroll's jab into the chest of an unappreciative Neuheisel.

Said Carroll: "It was the heart of the competitor just battling."

Said Neuheisel: "People can make their own conclusions."

The conclusion here was that Neuheisel's pettiness in the face of Carroll's professionalism was wrong.

In the end, while his players deserved better, Neuheisel got exactly what he deserved.

The strife began with USC leading, 21-7, and holding the ball at the UCLA 48-yard line with 54 seconds left.

Carroll ordered quarterback Matt Barkley to take a knee. This normally signifies a winning team refusing to pile up the score, a winning team willing to gently end the game.

But Neuheisel refused to accept the gesture by calling a timeout.

The baffled Coliseum crowd booed. The stunned USC players howled.

Yes, it was only the first of UCLA's three timeouts, meaning if USC kept taking a knee, Neuheisel could have kept calling them and eventually gained possession of the ball with about two seconds remaining.

Down two touchdowns with two seconds left.

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