LOS ANGELES -- For four straight plays in the waning minutes, Notre Dame's defense was backed up to its 1 with its perfect season in peril.
And on four straight plays, Southern California got nothing.
"We're going to fight," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "That's our name. It doesn't matter where we are."
The Fighting Irish will be in Miami next. With one another hard-nosed victory, they punched their ticket to the BCS championship game.
Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, and No. 1 Notre Dame secured the chance to play for the national title with a 22-13 victory over USC on Saturday night.
Everett Golson passed for 217 yards as the Irish (12-0) completed their first perfect regular season since 1988, earning a trip to south Florida on Jan. 7 to play for the storied program's first national championship in 24 years. Notre Dame's raucous locker-room celebration reverberated through the thick concrete walls of the 89-year-old Coliseum after an Irish win for the ages.
"I'm still in awe," Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "I don't think it's hit anybody yet. We're trying to relish the moment."
Although they did little with flash on an electric night at the Coliseum, the Irish woke up more echoes of past Notre Dame greats with a grinding effort in this dynamic intersectional rivalry with USC (7-5).
Notre Dame's impenetrable defense appropriately made that decisive stand in the final minutes, keeping USC out of the end zone on four plays from the Irish 1 with 2:33 to play. After three straight runs yielded minuscule gains, freshman Max Wittek threw incomplete to fullback Soma Vainuku, setting off a leaping, chest-bumping celebration on the Notre Dame sideline and in the Irish sections of the sold-out stadium.
"Well, that's who we are," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "It's been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points."
After spending more than a decade looking up at the Trojans, the Irish are back on top of this rivalry with two straight wins in Los Angeles. The school of Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen and Paul Hornung has new heroes now, from the Heisman Trophy hopeful Te'o to Kelly, who took the Irish from unranked to start the season to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 19 years.
"It's definitely a relief to be able to look at the big picture now, but it's a short window," said Te'o, who had a key interception and became the second Irish defender with three 100-tackle seasons. "We can enjoy this, but then we're going to have to get prepared for one more game."
The grind-it-out win highlighted an unforgettable season for the Irish, who began the year with questions about their relevancy and survived some uninspiring performances and nail-biting finishes with their unbeaten record intact.
Notre Dame is likely to face a Southeastern Conference opponent in Miami, but won't know their identities for another week. Alabama and Georgia play for the SEC title in Atlanta.
"The way we looked at it, if we won all of our games, at least we'd give ourselves a chance," Riddick said. "We've got super confidence as a team now."
With the Irish offense repeatedly stalling in the red zone against the Trojans, Brindza went five for six on field goals, even hitting a 52-yarder at the halftime gun. After Brindza's school record-tying fifth field goal put the Irish up by nine points with 5:58 left, Marqise Lee caught a 53-yard pass at the Notre Dame 2.
But after two pass interference penalties, USC failed on three straight runs and an ill-conceived pass against a defense that has allowed just 11 rushing TDs in 30 games.
"They've had a great goal-line defense all year," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "They've done that to everybody down on the goal line. ... It's just so hard to score touchdowns versus them. When the ball is on the 2-inch line, you'd think you could score touchdowns."
Wittek passed for 186 yards with two interceptions in his first career start for the Trojans, who completed their tumble from the preseason No. 1 ranking with four losses in five games in an enormously disappointing season. Wittek filled in capably for injured Matt Barkley, but USC is headed to a lower-tier bowl in the first year after its NCAA-mandated two-year postseason ban ended.
Lee caught five passes for 75 yards, yet still broke the Pac-12 single-season receptions record established last year by teammate Robert Woods, who had seven catches for 92 yards.
"For a freshman, Max did a great job," Lee said. "We just had a lot of mistakes again tonight. I made mistakes. We have to get better."
Barkley watched from the sideline in a grey hoodie with a sling on his right arm after spraining his shoulder in last week's loss at UCLA. The senior and Pac-12 career passing leader won twice in South Bend during his career, but never got to face the Irish at the Coliseum, sidelined by injuries for both visits.
Barkley still ran down the Coliseum tunnel with the rest of the USC seniors for their final home game. He participated in the coin toss, but could only watch while the Irish opened the game with three clock-consuming drives resulting in 13 points.
USC's much-criticized defensive caution under assistant head coach Monte Kiffin was exploited by the Irish, with Golson patiently finding the sags in the Trojans' pass coverage for 181 yards passing in the first half. Riddick went 9 yards for a TD in the first quarter, but USC also stiffened to hold Notre Dame to field goals twice in the red zone.
Notre Dame held its 12th straight opponent without a first-quarter touchdown, but Wittek found Woods for a 9-yard score on the first play of the second quarter – just the ninth touchdown allowed by Notre Dame all season long. The Irish took a 16-10 lead to halftime when Brindza hit the second-longest field goal in Notre Dame history.
Te'o made the seventh interception of his phenomenal season when Wittek threw directly to him on USC's second play of the second half. Both teams struggled to move the ball in the third quarter, and USC settled for a field goal with 9:20 to play just a few moments after Kiffin called a timeout right before a play that ended with Lee appearing to catch a pass on the goal line.
Also on HuffPost:
<p>No. 1 vs. No. 2: The only time in the series the two teams met ranked No. 1 vs. No. 2. Tony Rice scored on a 65-yard TD run, tailback Mark Green scored twice on short runs and USC turned the ball over four times as top-ranked Notre Dame beat second-ranked USC 27-10. The Irish were without leading rusher Tony Brooks and top receiver Ricky Watters, who were suspended and sent home after being 40 minutes late for Friday night's team meal. The Irish won the national championship.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>The Upset: The top-ranked Irish (9-0) were upset by Southern California (6-3) when Craig Fertig completed a 15-yard TD pass to Rod Sherman with 1:33 left as the Trojans rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to win 20-17. The Irish finished the season ranked No. 3 in posting their first winning season since 1958.</p>-AP
<p>First Game: Notre Dame backup quarterback Art Parisien threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to John Niemiec with 2 minutes to go to give the Irish a 13-12 victory in the inaugural game. The game was the first regular-season West Coast trip for the Irish two seasons after playing in the Rose Bowl.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>The Comeback: Notre Dame opened a 24-0 lead and held a 24-6 lead at halftime. But Anthony Davis scored on the second-half kickoff to ignite a 35-point third quarter and USC won 55-24, scoring all its points in 17 minutes. USC finished the year ranked No. 2 by The Associated Press, but the coaches awarded them the national championship.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Fourth Quarter Rally: USC scores all its points in the final quarter, capped by a 33-yard field goal by Johnny Baker with 1 minute left, as the Trojans won 16-14 for their first victory in South Bend. The loss ended a 27-game winning streak by the Irish and was the first loss at Notre Dame Stadium, which opened a season earlier, and just the second home loss for the Irish since 1905. USC won its second national championship.</p>-AP
<p>Big Crowd: An estimated 120,000 fans, including 99,573 paying customers, crowded into Soldier Field in Chicago to see the Trojans face the Irish. Ray Dahman caught a touchdown pass and kicked the extra point and the Irish won 7-6 after a controversial call when an official ruled an apparent safety for USC was an incomplete pass.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Streak Ends: Eric Penick scored on an 85-yard run, Bob Thomas kicked three field goals and the Irish defense held Anthony Davis to 55 yards rushing to win 23-14 and end USC's winning streak at 23 games. The Irish went on to win the national championship.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Failed Fake: The game was a scoreless tie late in the first half when top-ranked Notre Dame (8-0) attempted a fake punt on fourth and 22 in its own territory and failed. That set up a 36-yard touchdown pass from Ollie Day to Al Krueger with 5 seconds left in the half, giving the eighth-ranked Trojans a 6-0 lead en route to a 13-0 win before 97,146 fans. The Trojans were the only team to score more than a touchdown against the Irish all season.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Overtime: USC's Brad Otton threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Sermons in overtime to give USC a 27-20 victory, allowing the Trojans to avoid their third losing season in 35 years. The loss cost Notre Dame a berth in a major bowl and ended Lou Holtz's tenure as Notre Dame coach with a 100-30-2 record.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Green Jersey Game: The 11th-ranked Irish, led by quarterback Joe Montana, warmed up in their regular blue jerseys, but came out for the game wearing green jerseys for the first time since 1963 and the Irish cruised to a 49-19 victory over the fifth-ranked Trojans. Irish basketball coach Digger Phelps suggested wearing the green to coach Dan Devine to inspire the Irish. Notre Dame won the national championship.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>1947</p> <p>Battle of Unbeatens: Top-ranked Notre Dame (8-0) faced No. 3 USC (7-0-1). Emil Sitko broke the game open with a 76-yard touchdown run and Bob Livingstone added a 92-yard score as the Irish clinched the national championship with a 38-7 victory.</p><em>-AP</em> <p>___</p> <p>1948</p> <p>The Tie: Bill Martin scored on a 4-yard run with 2:30 left to give USC a 14-7 lead against the second-ranked Irish, who had won 21 straight but had turned the ball over seven times against the Trojans. Notre Dame's Bill Gay returned the kickoff 87 yards to the USC 12 to set up a 1-yard run by Emil Sitko that tied the game at 14 with 35 seconds left. At the time, there was no two-point conversion.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Parseghian's Payback: Two years after being upset by USC, Notre Dame returned to Los Angeles ranked No. 1 with an 8-0-1 record a week after its famous 10-10 tie with Michigan State. The Irish beat the Trojans 51-0 and won the national championship.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Six Touchdowns: Anthony Davis scored six touchdowns, two of them on kickoff returns, and broke five school records as the Trojans beat Notre Dame 45-23.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Commercial Break: Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein threw four touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversions for the Irish, who rallied from a 17-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to win 38-37. The Irish won on a 19-yard field goal by John Carney as time expired. The national-television audience missed seeing the game-winning kick live because CBS went to a commercial.</p><em>-AP</em>
<p>Bush Push: Notre Dame came up just short of stopping USC's winning streak at 28 games. Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart to help him score the winning touchdown with 3 seconds left, giving the Trojans a 34-31 victory.</p><em>-AP</em>