The game ended in the afternoon shadows at 4:41 p.m., the noise so loud you could barely carry a conversation with the guy next to you, but by the time it was dark and quiet, at 6, Rich Rodriguez and most of his coaching staff walked back into Arizona Stadium and gathered at the 40-yard line.

Someone had set up some tables and chairs, added two large red tablecloths, and the party was on.

Is this what you do when, improbably, you beat USC 39-36? Order some bubbly, turn on the $5 million video board, watch football and get carried away?

Maybe they do that at Wazzu or Utah, where beating USC might be viewed as a singular event, but when Rodriguez sat down to a catered buffet with assistant coaches Jeff Casteel, Tony Gibson, Calvin Magee, Rod Smith and Robert Anae, it was because he wants to do it again.

"The process has been started," RichRod said after Saturday's marathon of a football game.

Rather than celebrate the night away, the Arizona coaches and their wives put business before pleasure, entertaining four must-get junior college recruits from Georgia, sitting on the turf where 90 minutes earlier the Wildcats returned to relevancy and made you think, or even predict, that someday soon Arizona Stadium will be sold out, and beating the Trojans won't always require a series of crazy events.

"This doesn't make us a top-10 team; we've lost three games," RichRod said. "But I hope it makes recruits sit up and take notice."

If Arizona's new football coach has done one thing, it is make people take notice. Tucsonans have been slow to put down money and fill all the seats - or even stay to the finish - but the Wildcats have become impossible to ignore.

In its last five games at Arizona Stadium, the UA has averaged 48 points, 571 yards and has won four times. It beat No. 10 USC, No. 18 Oklahoma State, shattered Washington and took No. 18 Oregon State to the final tick of the clock before losing.

With the football gods as my witness, this team of psyche-scarred leftovers from the Mike Stoops years has become better than anyone could have possibly expected.

No longer is there a game on the schedule that you say is daunting or too much to ask.

One of the unspoken football traditions at Arizona is that you cry when you beat USC. Maybe not everybody, and maybe not when the TV cameras are rolling, but beating the Trojans is always a tear-jerker because nobody expects it, and you don't know when it'll happen again.

It all started in 1981 when the Wildcats stunned the No. 1 Trojans in Los Angeles, and it continued Saturday when senior center Addison Bachman left the field in tears. Bachman is a SoCal product deemed unworthy to be a Trojan, a five-year man who had to put in a term at a California junior college before Arizona found him and put him in the lineup as an emergency, injury fill-in at center.

When Bachman arrived at the interview room 20 minutes after Saturday's game, his voice broke, and his eyes filled with tears. The football gods had rewarded his and his teammate's ordeal.

"It's very overwhelming," he said. "It's a crazy, crazy experience."

You can talk about 1,206 yards, 27 penalties, the epic QB showdown in which Matt Scott at last out-played his high school rival, Matt Barkley, and you can fill up a notebook about USC receiver Marqise Lee's performance for the ages.

But on Saturday afternoon, the game came down to this: Arizona led 39-36 with 4:40 remaining and Scott, who had been knocked silly, was not allowed by medical personnel to finish the game.

The Trojans defense, somewhat gassed and humbled, knew that the only way Arizona could win the game was to give the ball to tailback Ka'Deem Carey and hope to run out the clock with a couple of first downs. USC put nine defensive players in the box and followed one instruction: get Ka'Deem.

It would be on Bachman, Shane Zink and Chris Putton, among others, who would have to clear space for Carey or risk giving the ball back to Barkley with way too much time on the clock.

After four hours of football mayhem, it would come down to simple blocking and tackling.

Carey, who is better than any tailback on USC's roster, who never gets tired and relishes the chance to get a tough yard, ran seven times against the entire USC defense. He got two first downs, buying Arizona the time it needed to beat the Trojans.

"In the third and fourth quarter, you can see (defenses) run out of breath, so just take it to them," said Carey. "They get tired and make weird mistakes. I took this one personal today."

In the last two weeks, RichRod and his staff have lured the high profile, high-paid, unsuspecting coaches from USC's Pete Carroll glory days - Washington's Steve Sarkisian and USC's Lane Kiffin - into his spidery web. They have beaten them down and worn them out with a fast pace, a hot quarterback and a defense that has made enough game-changing plays to put the Wildcats back on the map about two years ahead of any realistic schedule.

"We didn't play very well, we had a bunch of penalties and bad plays," said Rodriguez. "It got a little dead in the third quarter when we were down 28-13, but our guys just stuck with it."

By 7 Saturday, Rodriguez, his coaches and the Georgia recruits had vacated Arizona Stadium and were gone into the night, but the lights on the giant video board were still illuminated: Arizona 39, USC 36.

That's one thing RichRod won't let go.