LOS ANGELES — All week long in the build up to the biggest cross-town rivalry in college football, UCLA’s football team spoke with the fire of a thousand dragons while USC players sounded like they were playing the Northern Iowa junior varsity squad.

The Bruins seemed enthralled to rob their hated rivals of a Pac-12 title game berth, if not the College Football Playoff, and the Trojans seemed like they’d just woken up from a nap.

Turns out, they were just leaving their emotions to after the game.

There Caleb Williams was, thrusting his arm forward after one last critical 1st down on USC’s game-ending drive. Then, once the game was over, there he stood atop a ladder in front of the USC student section, thrusting his arm into his arm — now with sword in hand — high into the air. And then, finally, flashing the 4s Down, a direct insult to UCLA’s famed 4s up gesture, as he danced off the field.

There Bobby Haskins was, letting out torrents of tears after a trying week, with his heart back in Virginia with his fallen former teammates.

There the rest of the Trojans were, dancing on their bitter rivals’ iconic field after a back-and-forth, 48-45 win that went down to the last minute.

UCLA’s emotion was evident from the opening drive.

The Trojans moved the ball 55 yards in 9 plays before the Bruins tightened up and stuffed Williams for a 2-yard loss on 4th-and-1 at the 19-yard line. After USC’s Dennis Lynch missed a chip shot field goal on the Trojans’ 2nd fruitless possession, Dorian Thompson-Robinson capped off a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and after picking off Caleb Williams on USC’s next drive, UCLA extended its lead with a 30-yard touchdown completion from DTR to tight end Michael Ezeike.

At that point, it appeared as if the Bruins’ buzz was carrying them against a talented Trojans squad.

But USC head coach Lincoln Riley had a message for his team: We’ve been here before.

“Being down 14-0 and not even flinching, not even thinking about flinching,” Riley said, when asked what was the turning point of the game. “You build these games up in your head and the problem comes when you try to decide before it happens. You never think you’re going to be down 14-0. I told the guys last night, referencing a game last year, we were down 28-7 at the half. I said, ‘We’re capable of being down 28-7 at the end of the 1st quarter.’ … You can’t write the script first — you just have to be ready to respond and respond with discipline.”

And respond they did.

USC scored on its following possession, a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a Williams 6-yard rushing touchdown, and after UCLA scored on a DTR 1-yard touchdown run to go up 21-10, the Trojans responded with an Austin Jones 8-yard score then made it a 1-point game as the first half clock expired on a Denis Lynch 49-yard field goal.

Then, after UCLA settled for a field goal on its first drive of the second half, the Trojans struck quick on a 35-yard touchdown connection between Williams and a rejuvenated Jordan Addison. After forcing a fumble inside the UCLA 10-yard line on the Bruins’ next drive, USC again scored quickly on Jones’ second score.

“The different sides of the ball battling back when we weren’t at our best, not scoring the first couple drives when were we moving it pretty good, Denis coming back and hitting those kicks, defensively, coming up with turnovers — those were the difference in the game,” Riley said. “It’s pretty cool sitting here, getting a 10th win, getting a chance to go to the (conference) championship game. The toughest thing to do in football is to beat a good football team on Senior Night at their place.”

Perhaps never was the Trojans’ resiliency more apparent than UCLA’s final possession.

UCLA’s Laiatu Latu sacked Williams for a 12-yard loss on 3rd-and-10 at the Bruins’ 34-yard line, knocking the Trojans out of field goal range and giving UCLA a chance to tie it with a field goal.

And once again, the USC defense bent, allowing Thompson-Robinson to find Jake Bobo for a 27-yard gain to set the Bruins up with great field position and 90 seconds left.

Only UCLA didn’t account for Korey Foreman. Most people haven’t accounted for Foreman this year, and for good reason: The embattled former top recruit hasn’t lived up to his billing.

This week, though, he had a key interception in practice, and defensive back Bryson Shaw sprinted over to him and said, “Now you’ve gotta do it in the game.”

Guess what happened?

Foreman did it in the game, picking off DTR at midfield to clinch the victory.

In the post-game press conference, Foreman just shook his head. He looked like he was ready to cry.

“How many guys stepped up who haven’t had a statistically huge year this season?” Riley said. “Korey at the end, (running back) Darwin Barlow, Austin (Jones). You can go down the list. The culture was on display tonight.”

On a transient all-star team with more transfer talent than any other team in the country, it was easy to forget that much of the USC roster was around last year, when the Trojans lost to the Bruins, 62-33, on their own Los Angeles Coliseum grass.

“I know everyone talks about the ‘Lincoln Riley Era’ but for a lot of the guys on this team, (this season) was a revenge tour,” said defensive star Tuli Tuipulotu. “We had a get-back for a lot of these teams that got us last year.”

UCLA seemed intent on reminding the Trojans of their miserable 2021 season throughout the week, almost trying to coax USC into a war of the words.

One sentence by DTR seemed to sum up the entirety of the Bruins’ emotions heading into the game.

USC, meanwhile, downplayed the emotions of the rivalry throughout the week.

The Trojans let their play speak volumes.

“We heard all their stuff and you can tell those teddy bears, we beat them,” center Brett Neilon said. “They can say whatever they want, do whatever they want. But we run L.A. I’m happy.”

It was clear after the game that USC was full of fire, even if they kept it held deep until the game. Last year’s loss hurt them deeply.

“That’s not fun,” said wide receiver Kyle Ford, who had 3 catches for 73 yards and a score. “It’s not fun to lose at home and have people signing hats during the game. Like, people gonna mess with us like that? For us, as highly emotional as it could’ve been, I think we stayed really poised. If you’re from California, it’s a big thing. I used to be 7 years old, crying if we lost this game and I wasn’t even on the team. I’m not crying today, so that’s cool.”