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Implications in recent rivalry contests between USC and UCLA haven’t been all that big in recent years. On this day 55 years ago however, they couldn’t have been bigger.
In a contest that ultimately decided the Pac-8 champion, UCLA made an improbable comeback to down its arch-rivals. The Bruins scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to stun USC, 20-16.
Setting the Stage
In a conference then called the Athletic Association of Western Universities, there were only two teams unbeaten in league play. They met on the same field on Nov. 20, 1965.
Under first-year head coach Tommy Prothro, UCLA had won five straight games at it arrived at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Bruins were ranked No. 7 in the country and looking to snap a 3-game losing streak to the Trojans.
Both teams were 6-1-1 as they arrived for the rivalry contest, but neither team had lost in conference play. USC was ranked No. 6 and eyeing its first Rose Bowl berth in three years. For most of the day, that seemed inevitable.
The UCLA Rally
For three quarters, points were hard to come by. USC led 7-6 after three quarters, but wasted little time increasing that lead in the fourth.
Troy Winslow’s second touchdown pass of the day — a 10-yard strike to Rod Sherman — put the lead to 13-6. A short field goal by Tim Rossovich later pushed the lead to 16-6.
USC seemed well on its way to Pasadena, but a late fumble gave the Bruins the ball at the Trojans’ 34-yard-line. It took just one play for UCLA to take advantage as quarterback Gary Beban found Dick Witcher for the touchdown. The Bruins converted a 2-point conversion to make it a 2-point game.
The ensuing onside kick was recovered by UCLA’s Dallas Grider. Down 16-14, the Bruins had new life, but the drive looked as though it would come to a grinding halt. Facing 3rd-and-24 from the 48-yard-line, Beban had no choice but to go deep.
His prayer was answered.
On the other end of Beban’s heave was Kurt Altenberg, who reeled in the 48-yard touchdown pass. That served as the game-winner and the Bruins were Rose Bowl bound.
UCLA was outgained drastically by USC with just 289 yards to USC’s 424 yards. USC running back and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett rushed for 210 yards in the loss for a team that went for 345 yards on the ground. USC’s Mickey Upton and UCLA’s Mel Farr scored the only two touchdowns of the first half.
USC capped its season with a win over Wyoming the following week to finish in the top 10. The Trojans would bounce back to make the next four Rose Bowls.
UCLA would ascend into the top 5 with the win, but lost to Tennessee in Memphis the following week. The Bruins capped the year with a 14-12 victory over No. 1 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
As for the head coach, Prothro would coach six years at UCLA. His lone Rose Bowl appearance came in his first season. It wouldn’t have been possible without the victory that took place on this day five and a half decades ago.