LOS ANGELES - For four straight plays in the waning minutes, Notre Dame's defense was backed up to its 1-yard-line with its perfect season in peril.
And on four straight plays, Southern California got nothing.
"We're going to fight," said linebacker Manti Te'o, a Punahou School alumnus. "That's our name. It doesn't matter where we are."
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te‘o celebrates with wide receiver Robby Toma in the closing seconds of a 22-13 victory over Southern?California. Both are Punahou School graduates.
The Fighting Irish will be in Miami next. With another hard-nosed victory, they punched their ticket to the Bowl Championship Series title 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 on Saturday.
Everett Golson passed for 217 yards as the Irish (12-0) completed their first perfect regular season since 1988, earning a trip to Miami on Jan. 7 to play for the storied program's first national title in 24 years. Notre Dame's raucous locker-room celebration reverberated through the thick concrete walls of the 89-year-old Coliseum.
"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."
Notre Dame's 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 minutes, 33 seconds 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.
"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."
Notre Dame is likely to face a Southeastern Conference opponent in Miami, but won't know the team's identity for another week. Alabama and Georgia will play for the SEC title in Atlanta.
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 Associated Press poll 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."
Wittek passed for 186 yards with two interceptions in his first career start for the Trojans (7-5), who completed their tumble from the preseason No. 1 ranking with four losses in five games.
Wittek played in place of Matt Barkley, who sprained his shoulder in last week's loss at UCLA.