LOS ANGELES -- Stanford has tempted football fate time and again the past two seasons, playing one close game after another.
Saturday night, in an electric Los Angeles Coliseum, the Cardinal got burned.
Andre Heidari's 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining was the difference in USC's 20-17 upset of fifth-ranked Stanford -- the difference, but not the reason.
"We didn't make enough plays offensively, and when we did make plays, they didn't result in points," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
The Cardinal's 11-3 record in games decided by a touchdown or less since the start of the 2012 season was rooted in its ability to make big plays and avoid big mistakes. It had too few of the former and too many of the latter Saturday.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan threw two fourth-quarter interceptions: The first came from USC's 10-yard line, the second on an ill-advised, desperation pass near midfield with three minutes remaining.
The Trojans pounced. Quarterback Cody Kessler completed a 13-yard pass to Marqise Lee on fourth-and-2, then hit Nelson Agholor for 11 yards to move into field goal range.
Heidari's 47-yarder had plenty of distance and stood in contrast to a 30-yard attempt by Stanford's Conrad Ukropina that was blocked midway through the third quarter.
"It's not a good feeling," tailback Tyler Gaffney said. "We expect to win every game. This is the first time I've lost to them. It's a tough thing to swallow. But we'll stay even keeled."
Following the final whistle, USC fans poured onto the field to celebrate the Trojans' first win over the Cardinal since 2008.
The loss has devastating consequences for Stanford's postseason goals.
The Cardinal (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12) is out of the national championship hunt and no longer controls its destiny in the race for the Rose Bowl. If Oregon beats Arizona (road) and Oregon State (home), the Ducks will win the Pac-12 North and play for the conference title.
But the repercussions don't end there: Stanford now needs a series of losses by other teams to climb back into position for an at-large berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
For now, the Cardinal can't bother with scoreboard-watching. If it doesn't beat Cal and Notre Dame in the final fortnight, nothing else matters.
"They don't have a choice," Shaw said when asked about the players getting refocused. "It's the last Big Game for the seniors."
That includes Gaffney, who rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns nine days after his brilliant performance against Oregon. But he didn't get enough help.
After a rough first half, Stanford's defense turned to granite in the third quarter, repeatedly stuffing the Trojans.
The offense followed its usual approach, grinding away at the Trojans. The ploy worked to perfection early in the fourth quarter, as the Cardinal powered from its 15-yard line to USC's 6-yard line. But Stanford couldn't deliver the knockout.
Gaffney was stuffed for a 4-yard loss, then Hogan threw incomplete. On third down, Hogan fired a pass toward Ty Montgomery on the right side. Safety Dion Bailey stepped in front and returned the interception 26 yards.
Shaw took responsibility.
"It was a bad call," he said. "We called it earlier to the other side. Bailey's too good."
But Stanford's defense held, and the teams exchanged punts through the middle third of the quarter.
Hogan's second interception wasn't the result of a bad call; it was a bad decision. Running right, he lofted a pass in the general direction of two receivers -- and two defenders.
The ball was deflected, then landed in the hands of USC safety Su'a Craven with three minutes left. Then came USC's gutsy fourth-down call, Heidari's pressure field goal and mayhem on the Coliseum field.
"We had our opportunities," Shaw said. "That's the story of this game -- missed opportunities.''
It was bound to happen eventually.
Cal (1-10, 0-8 Pac-12) at Stanford (8-2, 6-2),