LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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."