With a towel shielding his face from the television cameras, USC quarterback Caleb Williams stood on the sideline with two minutes left in the Pac-12 championship game as Utah celebrated its 47th point of the contest.

Playing hurt, the sophomore transfer from Oklahoma gave his all for the Trojans in their 47-24 defeat, throwing for 363 yards and three touchdowns, but he had a key interception in the fourth quarter with the Trojans down by 10 and on the edge of Utah’s red zone.

Williams injured his hamstring on a run in the first quarter, according to head coach Lincoln Riley. Especially in the second half, Williams played with a noticeable limp that affected his elite elusiveness and scrambling abilities.

Riley said Williams was “not even close to 50%.”

“I felt (the hamstring injury) ... A person I admire is Kobe (Bryant). He always said the game is bigger than what you’re feeling,” Williams said.

“I was in my head and encouraging myself that the game is bigger than what I was feeling. I had a group of guys that was looking at me to go out there and lead them to victory, and that didn’t end up happening.”

USC backup quarterback Miller Moss warmed up on the sidelines, but Williams remained in the rest of the game.

“In terms of guys I’ve coached at that position, it’s maybe the gutsiest performance I’ve ever seen. I mean, most guys wouldn’t even played. He still gave us a chance,” Riley said.

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Limping, Williams made it a three-point game with 10:52 left on a 12-yard touchdown pass, having converted a third down on the drive with his legs.

“We had to change the game plan. We had to change a lot of things on the fly. He just kind of kept battling and willed up and we had a real shot there at the end,” Riley said.

“I thought really after we scored the touchdown and made it a three-point game that we had some real momentum on our side. That’s as gutsy a performance as you’ll ever see.”

Even in the final two minutes, with Utah up 47-24 and any hope of a Trojan comeback long extinguished, Williams put on his helmet and went back on the field.

On that final possession for USC, Williams, who was sacked seven total times in the game, was sacked twice.

“I definitely thought about taking him out. He wouldn’t have let me, he didn’t let me, and he wouldn’t even let me take him out at the end,” Riley said.

It’s a disappointing end to the season for the Trojans, who have rebounded from a 4-8 campaign in 2021 with an 11-win season.

“To come as far as this team and this program has come and to get that close to winning a championship and possibly much more and to not get it done is a tough pill to swallow,” Riley said.

Riley, and the many star transfers who chose the Trojans, transformed USC into a contender for the College Football Playoff. The only thing standing in between them and a spot the playoff were the Utes, the only team to beat them in the regular season.

The Trojans were thinking revenge.

The Utes had other thoughts in a blowout victory.

“I want to give Utah a lot of credit,” Riley said. “They battled their way to get back here and get into this game. Just a tremendous job.

“They played better than us today. They were definitely the better team tonight. Give their coaching staff and players a lot of credit, they certainly deserve that.”

The Utes are going back to the Rose Bowl after winning the conference for the second consecutive year.

“They’re a good football team, right? They make you earn it,” Riley said of Utah. “I mean their quarterback’s (Cameron Rising) played a lot of ball. They’ve got some really good skill.

“Defensively, they’re very strong. They’ve had a system in place and guys recruited for a long time, and you see the continuity and how that’s built and you kind of feel that with the way that their guys plug.”

Utah’s defense held the Trojans to just 24 total points, the second-lowest scoring output of the season for USC.

“You gotta give them credit,” Riley said. “Part of when you get to kind of these moments and these big games is groups that have been there before. They certainly have.

“A lot of our team has not, and we had our chances up there. We certainly had our chances tonight, but you gotta tip your hat to them. They’re a good football team.”

With their playoff hopes dashed, the Trojans turn their eyes toward Selection Sunday. With an 11-2 record, with both losses coming to the Pac-12 champion, USC should still get an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game, most likely the Cotton Bowl.

“Our program deserves a lot of credit for being here right now, no question,” Riley said. “I’m proud of the way that these guys battled all year, battled tonight. Obviously things didn’t go our way.

“We’re not going to walk around like it’s a funeral. We made a lot of progress to get to this point.”