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On This Date in Sports November 18, 1967: Battle of LA

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In a battle for the right to play in the Rose Bowl and win the AAWU, #3 USC stuns #1 UCLA 21-20 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. UCLA held a six-point lead in the fourth quarter when O.J. Simpson broke loose on a 64-yard touchdown run. USC would hit the extra point to win the game. Earlier in the fourth quarter, UCLA had their PAT blocked, deciding the game. USC would go on to win the National Championship, beating Indiana 14-3 in the Rose Bowl.

In the history of the UCLA versus USC rivalry no game had more at stake than the 1967 game, labeled the "Game of the Century." Not only were the two rivals from Los Angeles at the top of the rankings, but they had the top two candidates in the race for the Heisman Trophy. 

UCLA rose to prominence under coach Tommy Prothro with their upset of unbeaten Michigan State in the 1965 Rose Bowl. Over the next few seasons, the Bruins became a power in the Athletic Association of Western Universities. Their top rival was USC, with whom they shared the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In 1967 all eyes were on Los Angeles as both teams were national title contenders, while Bruins quarterback Gary Beban and USC running back O.J. Simpson were the top players in College Football. 

UCLA entered the game with the #1 ranking, at 7-0-1. The Bruins' lone stumble was a 16-16 tie against Oregon State on November 4th. USC, meanwhile, was 8-1, having lost the previous week 3-0 to the same Oregon State team that handed UCLA a tie. The Beavers had a good season but were third in the conference and ranked seventh in the nation. USC was determined to be the home team for the game, though both teams wore their home uniforms, with UCLA decked in powder blue and USC in red. 

UCLA opened the scoring as Greg Jones had a 12-yard run for a touchdown. After the Trojans went three-and-out, the Bruins looked to take a two-score lead when Gary Beban was picked off by Pat Cashman, who returned the ball 55 yards for a game-tying touchdown. In the second quarter, USC took the lead on a 13-yard run by O.J. Simpson. 

Down by a touchdown, the Bruins tied the game in the third quarter as Gary Beban connected with George Farmer on a 53-yard touchdown pass. The game was tied 14-14, but the Bruins appeared to be controlling the ball but had several missed opportunities, including a missed field goal in the second quarter. The field goal misadventures continued in the third quarter as Bruins kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn had a pair of field goals block, as USC coach John McKay noticed that he had a low trajectory on his attempts. 

Playing hurt, Gary Beban did his best to win the game and ultimately won the Heisman by passing for over 300 yards, with two touchdowns, while playing with torn rib cartilage. Beban connected with Dave Nuttall on a touchdown that gave the Bruins a lead. However, Zenon Andrusyshyn had the extra point blocked by Bill Hayhoe. 

With 10:36 remaining, USC answered as O.J. Simpson broke up the sideline and up the middle for a 64-yard touchdown run. Simpson was sprung on a perfect block by fullback Dan Scott and avoided several UCLA tacklers cutting back toward the center on the way into the end zone. Rikki Aldridge made the PAT, giving USC a 21-20 lead. The lead would stand, as Beban, in severe pain, could not get UCLA back across midfield for the remainder of the game, winning the "Victory Bell." 

USC would go on to win the National Championship, beating Indiana 14-3 in the Rose Bowl. It was the first National Championship for USC since 1962 and the sixth overall. Gary Beban won the Heisman in a close vote over O.J. Simpson, who returned in 1968 and claimed the Heisman in his senior season.