Kicker Boermeester among USC's unlikely Rose Bowl stars
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) As reporters formed a circle around Matt Boermeester to ask him about the 46-yard field goal as time expired that gave No. 9 Southern California a wild 52-49 win over No. 5 Penn State in the Rose Bowl, special teams coach John Baxter asked a question of his own to no one in particular.
''His five minutes up?'' Baxter said with a wide smile.
The Trojans split up 15 minutes of fame among several unlikely heroes in their NCAA-record 25th Rose Bowl win. Nobody got more attention than Boermeester, whose father was a record-setting kicker at UCLA, the Trojans' crosstown rival.
Boermeester had never been asked to kick with the game on the line in his first season at USC after transferring from a local junior college, but he was flawless with the Rose Bowl on the line.
Even holder Wyatt Schmidt was giving interviews, when he wasn't giving Boermeester some playful ribbing about his celebration.
''He did the dab,'' Schmidt said. ''He called that yesterday, which is the funny thing. He said, `When I make the game-winner, I'm going to do that.' And he did. He wanted us all to do it, but I couldn't. It was just weird that he called it yesterday.''
Boermeester missed a 51-yard field goal on USC's first possession and a 49-yard try at the end of the first half. But the junior never lost confidence, praising Schmidt and snapper Zach Smith on their execution in the locker room and saying he would be ready if a chance at redemption presented itself.
When safety Leon McQuay III intercepted Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley with 27 seconds remaining and returned it to the Penn State 33, Boermeester got his chance.
''We worked so hard throughout the season, it just sums it all up,'' Schmidt said. ''Zach gave me a perfect snap. Matt gave a perfect kick. Laces were out, and it just worked out perfectly. Best kick operation of the year, which most people don't see. It's a surreal moment and it worked out perfectly to how great of an ending that was.''
Quarterback Sam Darnold is going to be the biggest star coming out of the Rose Bowl, touted as a preseason Heisman favorite for 2017, but there were plenty of other USC players that shined just as brightly.
''It's not just me,'' Boermeester said. ''It's a credit to the whole team. They were the ones that gave me the opportunity, and I'm glad I got to kick that game-winner. It validates our season. We came through and we're a family.''
Defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who spent last summer living in his car around Los Angeles before officially joining the team as a graduate transfer from Utah, was the game's defensive most valuable player.
It took some creative accounting through the use of a blue shirt to get receiver Deontay Burnett on scholarship, but the sophomore caught three touchdown passes, including a 27-yard touchdown catch with 1:20 remaining that tied the game at 49-49.
While Boermeester was visualizing his Rose Bowl moment on Sunday, Tu'ikolovatu had no such premonitions when he first joined USC.
''No way, man,'' Tu'ikolovatu said. ''Not in a million years.''
But a utility defensive lineman for the Utes became a centerpiece of USC's defense, offering both a sturdy anchor in the middle of the line and much-needed experience and leadership to a young position group learning coordinator Clancy Pendergast's modified 3-4 scheme.
Tu'ikolovatu finished with eight tackles, including six solo tackles. He was vital in holding Penn State scoreless in the fourth quarter, helping force consecutive three-and-outs and getting the ball back to USC's offense for the game-tying touchdown.
''We knew he was going to have to come in and play because we were super-thin, but we didn't know the impact he would have,'' safety Chris Hawkins said. ''For him to come in and basically be MVP of our defense, I mean, he was the X-factor in almost every game. For him to hog up the whole middle, you can't run down the middle of our defense.''
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