No fairy-tale ending for Mustain
By Matt 'Money' Smith
FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET
It was set up to be an above-the-fold, giant-headline-on-the-front-page kind of ending to what ultimately has been a page-eight career. But when the moment came calling where the fairy godmother said "and he lived happily ever after," the typically sure-handed Ronald Johnson had Mitch Mustain's hopes at a sliver of USC glory slip through his fingers.
For all the twists and turns, for every unsung hero, for all the "Bush Push" and "win one for the fat guy" stories, it's likely that had a pass been completed, records be dammed, this would have gone down as one of the more memorable chapters in college football's most historic intersectional rivalry.
Sitting high above the LA Memorial Coliseum field delivering the call for the national audience listening to the 82nd installment of USC vs. Notre Dame, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for the 2005 Parade Magazine Prep Player of the Year. Mustain waited nearly half a decade for that very moment, the one that only comes to kids playing at schools like USC or Notre Dame, and it got away from him. While Ryan Mallet was making history for Mustain's former school, leading Arkansas to a victory over LSU that could have BCS bowl implications, Mustain had an audience of millions that didn't care these two teams battling had a combined 13-9 record.
Instead he chose to stay, knowing full well he would be Matt Barkley's backup.
Mustain didn't play particularly well in the contest, finishing with just 177 yards and an interception. But he had little help from the rest of his offense. Marc Tyler and CC.J. Gable couldn't get a rushing attack going. The two combined for 24 carries that amassed just 67 yards, while the offensive line was whistled repeatedly, pushing Mustain back five yards at a time, making the task at hand even more difficult.
Still there was Mustian driving the Trojans two-minute offense with a comeback victory in sight. The plays unfolding seemed to set up glory for a guy who had finally received his first start at the most glamorous position in all of college football - quarterback at USC - on his very own Senior Day. His family sitting in the crowd of 85,000-plus, each one hanging on every pass that right arm of his threw. And with 1:17 seconds left, the one that should have resulted in his permanent place in the annals of this historic rivalry fell to the ground instead of carrying him to glory. It was another senior that saw it slip through his fingers, but Johnson has produced far too many memorable moments to have that single play define his USC career like it will Mustain's.
Following the contest, the kid was nothing but class, acknowledging they likely saw one get away on that play, but putting the onus back on himself in the very same quote.
"It probably would have changed the outcome, but that doesn't really matter," Mustain said. "We came back and still had another shot."
And with another shot, Mustain threw an interception at the goal line, leading to a collective groan from the Trojan faithful, and hearing one fan after another trudge their way from puddle to puddle en route to their car muttering how they likely would have won had Barkley been the starter.
It's not a fate that Mustain deserved, but one he now owns.
His hope is he gets one more shot at leaving a legacy, albeit a small one, with a start against UCLA this Saturday and a chance at redemption against another rival.