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100 Greatest Finishes - No. 71 to 80
Posted Jul 9, 2007

The 100 Greatest College Football Finishes since 1970 ... No. 71 to No. 80

100 Greatest Finishes - 71 to 80

The greatest endings in college football history from 1970 to the present

Writeups by Pete Fiutak  updated June 2007

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-7081-90 | 91-100  

No. 80  NC State 23 ... South Carolina 22, November 1, 1986
At the time: NC State was in the midst of a strong first season under head coach Dick Sheridan with a 5-1-1 record and a two-game winning streak after a 27-3 win over a good Clemson team. South Carolina was going nowhere fast with a 2-4-1 record with one of the wins coming over DI-AA Western Carolina.
The setup: NC State was up 17-3 going into halftime but lost starting QB Erik Kramer early in the second half to a leg injury. USC's Todd Ellis hooked up with Sterling Sharpe for a touchdown and it became a ballgame again at 17-13. Kramer came back in the game, but he fired two interceptions in the fourth quarter leading to Gamecock points. Ellis ran for a one-yard score, and USC was up 22-17 late with the ball with 2:13 to play and with NC State out of timeouts. It should've been over. A handoff followed by two kneel-downs made it fourth down for USC on its own 24 with :30 to play (thanks to a controversial clock stoppage after first down). NC State got the ball back on the USC 39 with :24 to play after a 15-yard punt, but couldn't do anything as Kramer was sacked on third down and the clock ran out. However ...
The ending: ... there was a flag on the field. USC LB Kenneth Robinson was nailed with an offsides call. Many Gamecock fans had already stormed field, along with the players, but they had to be cleared for one final play. Kramer threw up a last-gasp pass into the end zone (as he aggravated his ankle injury) where Danny Peebles pushed off, leapt up and made the catch as USC safety Chris Major delivered a major shot. NC State won 23-22.
How they ended up: South Carolina lost the following week to Florida State before beating Wake Forest and Tying Clemson to finish 3-6-2. NC State blew its shot at the ACC title the following week losing 20-16 to Virginia, but still went on to an 8-3-1 season finishing with a 25-24 Peach Bowl loss to Virginia Tech.

No. 79  Wisconsin 20 ... Purdue 17, October 16, 2004
At the time: Purdue was the talk of the college football world. No one was hotter than QB Kyle Orton, who threw 17 touchdowns and no interceptions before throwing his first two picks of the year in a 20-13 win over Penn State. There was even discussion of Heisman after being the best player in the country over the first half of the year. There was talk of Purdue winning the Big Ten title, but Wisconsin was also on a roll winning it first six games led by the nation's best defense that gave up a mere 39 points.
The setup: It was a rough game for the Badgers. Star runner Anthony Davis was held to 64 yards and pass rushing superstar Erasmus James was knocked out with an ankle injury. Down 17-7 late in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin marched through the air finishing off a long drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Booker Stanley. Even so, it appeared to be too little, too late. All Purdue had to do was get a few first downs and it was over.
The ending: Orton, who had been held in check all game long, was trying to dive for a critical first down that would've allowed the offense to come close to running out the clock. He dove, was flipped, and he fumbled a split second before his hand hit the ground. Badger corner Scott Starks picked up the loose ball and raced 40 yards for a touchdown and a 20-17 lead with 2:36 to play. But Orton would have one final shot. With a few frantic completions to get in position, Lou Groza Award candidate Ben Jones had a shot at a 42-yard field goal to send it into overtime. He missed.
How they ended up: The Badgers went on to beat Northwestern and Minnesota to start the season 9-0. An apparent lock for the Rose Bowl, they lost their final two regular season games before losing 24-21 to Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Purdue never regained its early season mojo, losing the following week to Michigan on yet another late fumble. The loss to the Badgers led to a four-game losing streak before beating Ohio State and Indiana. The season ended on another heartbreaking finish in a 27-23 loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

No. 78  Tennessee 35 ... Notre Dame 34, November 9, 1991
At the time: Notre Dame shook off an early season loss to Michigan to win seven straight for an 8-1 record heading into the showdown with Tennessee for the 300th game played at Notre Dame Stadium. The 13th ranked Vols started off 4-0 before losing to Florida and Alabama. A win over Memphis turned things around a bit, but they needed a big win to get back on track.
The setup: Things couldn't have been going worse for Tennessee, getting down 31-7 late in the first half when Irish PK Craig Hentrich lined up for a 32-yard field goal with :40 to play. The kick was blocked and picked up by Floyd Miley for an 85-yard Volunteer touchdown. The UT defense dominated the second half, while Aaron Hayden scored two fourth quarter touchdowns for an improbable 35-34 lead with just over four minutes to go. Rick Mirer and the Notre Dame offense finally got going, moving the ball to the Tennessee nine-yard line with four seconds to play.
The ending: Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz had to put in backup kicker Rob Leonard to replace an injured Hentrich for the final 27-yard field goal attempt. Leonard kicked it squarely, but UT’s Jeremy Lincoln flew in and appeared to dive past the play. The ball bounced off Lincoln's butt and was pushed wide as time ran out.
How they ended up: Tennessee went on a great run to close out the year. The Notre Dame win was the second in a five-game winning streak before losing 42-17 to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl for a 9-3 record. Notre Dame got blasted 35-13 by the Nittany Lions the following week before beating Hawaii and then Florida in the Sugar Bowl to finish 10-3.

No. 77  Oklahoma 29 ... Ohio State 28, September 24, 1977
At the time: It was one of the most anticipated and most hyped non-conference regular season games ever as No. 3 Oklahoma traveled to Columbus to face No. 4 Ohio State. The Sooners were 2-0 after surviving in a 25-23 win over Vanderbilt before pummeling Utah 62-24. Led by head coach Woody Hayes, the Buckeyes beat Miami and Minnesota by a combined score of 48-7 for a 2-0 start.
The setup: Thomas Lott, playing on an injured leg and before getting knocked out with a sprained ankle, ran the OU wishbone to a 20-0 lead with touchdown runs from Elvis Peacock and Billy Sims. OSU came back with 28 straight points highlighted by a touchdown catch from tight end Jimmy Moore off a deflected pass. OU was able to convert a late OSU fumble into a Peacock touchdown with 1:29 to play, but he was unable to get in for the two point conversion keeping the Buckeyes ahead 28-26.
The ending: Oklahoma had to go for the onside kick. Uwe Von Schamann's kick bounced by the Buckeyes and in the hands of OU's Mike Babb at the 50. Backup Sooner QB Dean Blevins moved the offense to the Buckeye 24 with six seconds to play giving Von Schamann a shot at the win with a 41-yard field goal. During a timeout called by Ohio State, Von Schamann egged on the crowd trying to rally the Buckeye defense to block the kick. He nailed it for the 29-28 win.
How they ended up: Ohio State bounced back to win seven straight games, but it didn't beat anyone of note, before losing 14-6 to Michigan and 35-6 to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to finish 9-3. The Sooners beat Kansas the following week before losing 13-6 to Texas. Even with the loss, they were still in the hunt for the national title ending the regular season 10-1 ranked No. 2 behind the Longhorns. Texas lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl opening the door for the Sooners to win the national title, but Lou Holtz's Arkansas team beat OU 31-6 in the Orange Bowl.

No. 76  Auburn 36 ... Florida 33, October 15, 1994
At the time: This was supposed to be the nationally televised coming out party for the No. 1 ranked, 5-0 Florida Gators against a very good Auburn team that had won 17 straight. Florida had become an elite program, but it hadn't been considered a No. 1 team for years. With quarterback Terry Dean in contention for the Heisman and Steve Spurrier's offense humming, the Gators were supposed to roll at home even though Auburn, on probation at the time, had started the year 6-0. The Tigers hadn’t played anyone with a pulse, but it was still playing well.
The setup: The Gators and Tigers battled back and forth, but Dean started developing a nasty habit of throwing the ball to Auburn as drive after drive kept ending in disaster. Spurrier benched his Heisman candidate and replaced him with young backup Danny Wuerffel, who led Florida back into the lead late in the game. The running of freshman running back Fred Taylor and play of receiver Jack Jackson seemed to secure the Gator win, but Auburn would make one last push.
The ending: Down by seven with time winding down, Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix started a desperation drive utilizing top receiver Frank Sanders and running back Stephen Davis to keep the chains moving. Nix threw a jump ball to Sanders for an eight-yard touchdown with :30 to play for the comeback 36-33 win.
How they ended up: Auburn kept on winning running the streak up to twenty teams before tying Georgia 23-23. The Tigers closed out the season with a 21-14 loss to Alabama to finish 9-1-1. Florida bounced back two weeks later to blow out Georgia 52-14 starting a four-game winning streak before the classic 31-31 collapse against Florida State. After winning the SEC title game over Alabama, the Gators lost 23-17 to the Noles in the Sugar Bowl to finish 10-2-1.

No. 75  Oregon 34 … Oklahoma 33, Sept. 16, 2006
At the time: Oklahoma was 2-0, but had hardly been impressive. Still trying to jell without starting quarterback Rhett Bomar, who was suspended in the off-season, and with an offensive line and secondary that wasn’t nearly as good as it would be at the end of the year, the Sooners were looking for a big road win to generate a little bit of a national buzz before getting Texas in a few weeks. Oregon started off 2-0, but struggled to get past Fresno State the week before.
The setup: Oklahoma apparently had the win in hand thanks to a brilliant day from Adrian Peterson, who finished with 211 rushing yards and a score. Oregon was down 33-20, but managed one of its best drives of the day and got back into the game with just over three minutes to play on a touchdown run from quarterback Dennis Dixon. And then the craziness began.
The ending: Down six, Oregon attempted the onside kick. After it bounced around a bit, the Sooners came up with the ball. However, the ball appeared to hit an Oregon player before going ten yards and the officials ruled the ball was going to Oregon, and the Sooner coaching staff had the play reviewed. The booth officials botched the replay and failed to reverse the call, causing Bob Stoops and the Sooner coaching staff to go berserk. Even so, OU still had a shot to come up with a stop and get the win, but failed to do it as Dixon connected with Brian Paysinger for a 23-yard touchdown with 46 seconds to play. The extra point gave the Ducks a 34-33 lead, but OU still had time. Reggie Smith took the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to get into field goal range, but Garrett Hartley, who had hit four field goals on the day, got his 44-yard attempt blocked to seal the win for the Ducks.
How they ended up: Oklahoma went nuts. Forgetting that the defense failed to come up with a final stop and the field goal was blocked, Stoops, the OU president, and the entire fan base went ballistic over the missed replay on the onside kick, blaming that for the loss. The national title hopes were crushed anyway with a loss to Texas, but the Sooners rebounded to win seven straight games, including the Big 12 title, before losing to Boise State in an epic Fiesta Bowl. Oregon blew away Arizona State the following week, but only won three of its final nine games to finish a disappointing 7-6.

No. 74 Notre Dame 21 ... Michigan State 17, September 21, 2002
At the time: Notre Dame was in the first year of the Ty Willingham era and was enjoying a tremendous 3-0 start with a 22-0 win over Maryland followed up by a win over Purdue, on an interception return for a score, and a 25-23 win over Michigan saved by a broken up two-point conversion attempt. Michigan State was supposed to be in for a big season under head coach Bobby Williams, but a stunning 46-22 home loss to Cal put a damper on the 2-1 start.
The setup: All appeared lost for Notre Dame when starting QB Carlyle Holiday was knocked out with a shoulder injury. Things went from bad to worse when Spartan star WR Charles Rogers overcame his early case of the drops to rip apart the Irish secondary in the second half to finish with seven catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns including a brilliant 21-yard scoring grab putting MSU up 17-14 late.
The ending: In for Holiday, backup QB Pat Dillingham was trying to get the Irish in a position for a game-tying field goal, but he got a whole bunch more as Arnaz Battle took a short pass 60 yards for a touchdown with 1:15 to play. The Irish sealed it with a Gerome Sapp interception on a Hail Mary attempt to Rogers.
How they ended up: The Spartan season imploded with issues with QB Jeff Smoker and the eventual firing of Williams after only winning two of the final eight games. Notre Dame kept up the magic for a few more weeks for an 8-0 start before losing 14-7 to Boston College. With a 10-1 record, the Irish got blasted 44-13 to USC before losing 28-6 to NC State in the Gator Bowl.

No. 73  Washington 42 ... Arizona State 38, September 5, 1998
At the time: It was the season-opener for each team. Washington was coming off an Aloha Bowl winning season and Arizona State was pumped up after a strong 9-3 1997 campaign.
The setup: The two offenses traded shot after shot with QB Brock Huard throwing three touchdown passes on the way to a 35-28 Washington lead going into the fourth quarter. ASU bounced back with a field goal before a fantastic J.R. Redmond punt return set up a touchdown pass to Tariq McDonald for a 38-35 Sun Devil lead with two minutes to play. Washington was able to get the ball to midfield with just over a minute to play, but a fumbled pitch meant a 14-yard loss and 4th and 17 from the UW 37 as time was running out.
The ending: With half a minute remaining and the clock ticking, Huard audibled at the line checking into the perfect play call finding tight end Reggie Davis in stride on a post pattern. Sprinting to the end zone, Davis was caught by ASU defensive star Mitchell Freedman at around the ten. Instead of going for the tackle, Freedman went for the strip and Davis rumbled into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown. The Sun Devils were able to scramble to the Washington 40, but the Hail Mary attempt didn't work as time ran out.
How they ended up: Arizona State never recovered finishing 5-6. Washington beat BYU the following week and got off to a 5-2 start, but a three game losing streak and a 45-25 Oahu Bowl loss to Air Force meant a 6-6 record and the end of the Jim Lambright era.

No. 72  Colorado 10 ... Notre Dame 9, Orange Bowl January 1, 1991
At the time: Colorado was playing for the national title in the 1991 Orange Bowl coming in on a nine-game winning streak helped by the infamous "fifth-down" win over Missouri and a few other close calls. Notre Dame had a bit of a letdown year (considering it had national title hopes) going 9-2 losing to Stanford and Penn State. The year before in the 1990 Orange Bowl, the Irish ruined Colorado's title dreams with a 21-6 win.
The setup: Notre Dame took a 6-3 lead on a Ricky Watters touchdown run, but the blocked extra point attempt allowed Colorado to eventually take the 10-9 lead on a one yard Eric Bienemy touchdown run and a successful extra point. Clinging to the slimmest of leads, CU had to punt from midfield with just over a minute to play. Awaiting the kick was the nation's most exciting player: Rocket Ismail.
The ending: No one expected Ismail to actually return the kick, but Colorado punter Tom Rouen was instructed to not kick it out of bounds for fear of a short Irish drive for a game-winning field goal. Instead, Ismail fielded it inside his own ten and darted up the field. As he blew past the Buffalo defenders and up the right side, it appeared he was going to come up with the most dramatic kick return in college football history and forever make CU head coach Bill McCartney look like the goat for his decision to allow the return. CU's Tim James was trailing and had a desperate chance at making a last-ditch play, but he was blocked by Notre Dame's Greg Lane while Ismail was gone for a 91-yard return. Flag. Lane was nailed with a clipping call that has forever been called into question. Even so, it didn't diminish the drama of Ismail's return. Notre Dame wasn't able to do anything with the ball on its final drive.
How they ended up: Colorado won a share of the 1990 national title along with Georgia Tech finishing 11-1-1. Notre Dame finished 9-3. Ismail left college early to go off to the CFL's Toronto Argonauts.

No. 71  Michigan 35 ... Alabama 34, Orange Bowl, January 1, 2000
At the time: Michigan had a fantastic season winning the first five games before losing nail-biters to Michigan State and Illinois. Those two losses allowed Wisconsin to go to the Rose Bowl, while the Wolverines won their final four games to finish 9-2 earning a berth in the Orange Bowl. Alabama overcame a shocking 29-28 early season loss to Louisiana Tech to come up with an equally stunning 40-39 win over Florida for a 9-2 record and an SEC West title. A rematch win over Florida in the SEC championship put the Tide in the Sugar.
The setup: Shaun Alexander scored three touchdowns for Alabama and David Terrell caught three touchdown passes for the Wolverines in a fun shootout. With the score tied at 28, Michigan was in range for a game-winning field goal as time was running out.
The ending: Michigan kicker Hayden Epstein's 36-yard game-winning field goal try was blocked to force overtime. In OT, Wolverine QB Tom Brady threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Thompson on the first play. Epstein hit the extra point. Alabama answered with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Carter. All the Tide needed was the extra point to force another overtime, but kicker Ryan Pflunger missed wide right.
How they ended up: Michigan finished the year ranked fourth in the AP and sixth in the Coaches' poll. Alabama finished eighth in the AP Poll and tenth in the Coaches'.


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