When Matt Barkley kneeled down to end Southern California's victory in the final minute, UCLA defiantly stopped the clock with a timeout.
So the Trojans let 'er rip, throwing a long touchdown pass and then celebrating it with a taunting ferocity that brought the Bruins onto the field on the verge of a brawl.
The last 90 seconds of Los Angeles' 79th crosstown showdown had more action than the first 58 1/2 minutes, even if it was just a few extra fireworks at the close of No. 24 USC's workmanlike 28-7 victory Saturday night.
Malcolm Smith returned one of USC's three interceptions 62 yards for an early touchdown for the Trojans (8-3, 5-3 Pac-10), who regained their defensive pride while maintaining their city dominance.
Yet those in the non-sellout Coliseum crowd who left early missed most of the good stuff in an otherwise lusterless game between two opponents in brightly colored home jerseys.
"You're either competing or you're not," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We've been saying it for years. We've been living it for years. If you really believe in competing, if you really do, you'll understand it."
When the Bruins stopped USC's attempt to run out the clock, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates dialed up a play-action pass with Carroll's eager approval. Barkley's 48-yard throw down the middle to Damian Williams with 44 seconds left led to an ebullient USC celebration that nearly set off an all-out fight.
"No, we weren't going to fight _ but I put my helmet on and my mouthpiece in, just in case," Barkley said, grinning.
The Trojans jumped, yelled and gestured on their sideline before moving onto the field in unison in a teamwide taunt of the Bruins (6-6, 3-6), who then came across midfield to challenge them before coaches and officials kept them apart.
"They were excited, they were taunting, and we wanted to let them know we weren't going anywhere," UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter said. "I don't take offense. If we were winning, I would have done the exact same thing. I still shook hands with everybody on that team."
Incredibly, no penalties were called for the faceoff, although UCLA got two personal fouls for in-game infractions in the final seconds. UCLA's coaches herded most of their players to the locker room without the customary postgame handshakes.
Both Carroll and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel didn't see the final touchdown as a pile-it-on score, noting the Trojans were only ahead by 14 points and had tried to run out the clock.
"Our job is to cover, and they have every right to throw deep," Neuheisel said. "People can make their own conclusions. Our job is to stop the play. ... I don't blame them for doing it."
Allen Bradford ran for 62 yards and two TDs, including a score with 1:30 to play, as the Trojans rebounded splendidly from the worst defensive performance in USC history.
USC has won three straight over UCLA _ allowing just 21 total points _ since the Trojans' 13-9 loss to UCLA in 2006. But the long-mighty Trojans staggered into the Coliseum with two blowout losses in their last three games and their lowest ranking since 2001.
The Trojans gave up 47 points to Oregon and a school-record 55 to Stanford in the past three games, but UCLA barely threatened to score until the final minutes. USC constantly rattled UCLA freshman quarterback Kevin Prince, and Will Harris' interception set up Bradford's first TD run early in the second half.
USC limited the Bruins to 180 yards and no points in the first three quarters, more than making up for the Trojans' unabated offensive struggles under Barkley, who passed for 206 yards in his first crosstown game. USC also lost starting tailback Joe McKnight on the first drive of the second half to a thigh injury.
"You come here knowing how big this rivalry is, and how much it means to everybody in this city," Barkley said. "I'm going to remember this one."
The Bruins barely moved until senior quarterback Kevin Craft relieved Prince, who sprained his right shoulder, in the second half. Fullback Chane Moline scored their only TD on a 2-yard direct snap with 5:41 to play.
But Barkley then made perhaps his best throw, hitting Ronald Johnson with a 20-yard pass on third down with less than 2 1/2 minutes to play. Bradford rumbled 21 yards to the UCLA 2 on the next play before scoring.
USC then took over on downs near midfield with 54 seconds left, sealing the Trojans' 10th win in the last 11 meetings _ and setting up those late shenanigans.
Craft passed for 98 yards and Prince had 90 for the Bruins, whose three-game winning streak ended. The Bruins are bowl-eligible, but they're the seventh-place team in a strong conference with just six automatic bowl affiliations.
Both teams marched into the Coliseum wearing their home jerseys, a long-dormant tradition revived last season by USC at the Rose Bowl. UCLA even went a step further with the powder-blue 1967 throwback jerseys that the Bruins first wore in a win over Washington three weeks earlier to snap a five-game skid.
But all the color was in the uniforms, not the dull play. USC led 7-0 after a 10-punt first half, the rivalry's lowest-scoring first half in 33 years.
Prince made the half's biggest mistake when he lost sight of Smith, throwing a short slant pass right into the USC linebacker's numbers in the first quarter. Smith outran Prince down the UCLA sideline, showing off the speed he shares with his brother, former Trojans receiver Steve Smith.