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100 Greatest Finishes - No. 51 to 60
Posted Jul 9, 2007

The 100 Greatest College Football Finishes since 1970 ... No. 51 to No. 60

100 Greatest Finishes - 51 to 60

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 | 61-70 | 71-8081-90 | 91-100  

No. 60  Notre Dame 17 ... Penn State 16, November 14, 1992
At the time: No. 23 Penn State started out 5-0 before losing three of its next four games for a 6-3 record. Notre Dame was ranked seventh with a 7-1-1 record going into the home date with the Nittany Lions.
The setup: In a driving snowstorm, the defenses were leading the way highlighted by a great Notre Dame goal line stand midway through the fourth quarter forcing a field goal and a 9-9 tie. Up 16-9 after a Brian O'Neal touchdown run, Penn State's defense had to hold the Irish offense in check for one more drive. On its own 36 with just over four minutes to play, Notre Dame was able to work its way down to the three with :35 left facing fourth and goal.
The ending: Irish QB Rick Mirer dropped back, scrambled, and found Jerome Bettis on the goal line for a touchdown with :20 to play. This was before the days of overtime, meaning an extra point would make it 16-16. Earlier in the year, the Irish tied Michigan at 17 leading to a great deal of criticism for not going for the win. This time, head coach Lou Holtz chose to go for it. Mirer dropped back, and kept dropping back, until he was able to spot Reggie Brooks open at the right side of the end zone. Mirer threw it high up and almost out of reach, but Brooks was able to make a tough diving catch for the 17-16 lead. The crowd stormed the field forcing an unsportsmanlike foul call and giving life to Penn State. With :15 to play, Kerry Collins misfired on three straight passes and Notre Dame held on.
How they ended up: Notre Dame beat USC the following week and thrashed Texas A&M 28-3 in the Cotton Bowl to finish 10-1-1. Penn State recovered to beat Pittsburgh 57-13, but ended up 7-5 after losing 24-3 to Stanford in the Blockbuster Bowl.

No. 59  Florida 18 ... Auburn 17, November 1, 1986
At the time: Florida had gotten off to a rocky start losing four in a row before getting to 3-4 with wins over Kent and Rutgers. Unfortunately, the Gators hadn't beaten anyone with a pulse. In came Auburn to the Swamp with a 7-0 record and No. 5 ranking led by a defense that had allowed a total of 53 points (7.5 points per game).
The setup: Florida stunk turning it over six times in the first half and getting down 17-0 going into the fourth quarter. Banged up Gator quarterback Kerwin Bell came in despite a knee injury, but he wasn't effective, throwing an interception and almost getting picked off a second time. He finally got hot, leading the Gators on a long drive rushing for a one-yard score to make it a ballgame. Florida kicker Robert McGinty, who transferred from Auburn after missing a last second kick against Alabama, nailed a 51-yard bomb to bring the Gators to within seven. Getting the ball back with less than two minutes to play, Bell had one last shot.
The ending: Bell was able to get the offense down to the Auburn five, but time was quickly ticking away. On second and goal, he found Ricky Nattiel on a fade pattern for a touchdown with :36 left to play to bring the Gators to within one. With nothing to lose considering the season wasn't going anywhere, Florida chose to go for two and the win rather than take the tie. Bell couldn't find any of his receivers as Nattiel was covered like a blanket and no one else could get open. On his bum knee, Bell tried to avoid the heavy pass rush and run for the conversion himself. While not setting any speed records, he was able to get to the left side of the end zone for the conversion and a 18-17 lead. The Gators stormed the field in celebration and was slapped with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty meaning Auburn ended up starting from midfield after a good kickoff return. The Tigers were able to get to the Florida 36 with only six seconds remaining. On came Chris Knapp, who replaced McGinty as the Auburn kicker, to try a 53-yard kick to pull off the win, but it came up short giving the Gators the win.
How they ended up: The Tigers bounced back to thrash Cincinnati 52-7 the next week, but lost the week after to Georgia costing them an SEC title. A 16-7 win over USC in the Citrus Bowl gave them a 10-2 season and a No. 6 final ranking. Florida beat Georgia the following week and finished winning five of its final six games for a 6-5 record.

No. 58  USC 27 ... Notre Dame 25
, November 25, 1978
At the time: USC was loaded and in the middle of a fantastic season with a 9-1 record and was in the middle of the chase for the national title. Notre Dame had started off the year 0-2, but went on a roll winning eight straight games before traveling to L.A. for its regular season finale.
The setup: USC went up 24-6 going into the fourth quarter as Joe Montana and the Irish offense was struggling to get anything going. And then Montana started to play like Joe Montana, connecting with Kris Haines for a 57-yard touchdown pass and leading a 98-yard drive culminating in a one-yard Pete Buchanan touchdown run to make it 24-19 with three minutes to play. The Irish D held giving Montana one last shot with 1:35 to play and the ball on the Irish 43.
The ending: Montana did what he had to do with a crisp drive finished off by a two-yard touchdown pass to Pete Holohan for a 25-24 lead with :46 to play. USC QB Paul McDonald got the ball back with :40 left and starting on the Trojan 30. Following a short pass, McDonald dodged a bullet when he got hit and lost the ball, but the apparent fumble was called an incomplete pass. Taking full advantage of the good call, McDonald connected with Calvin Sweeney for a 35-yard play down to the Notre Dame 25 with :12 left. Charles White, who finished with 205 yards, was able to get it to the 20 for a field goal attempt with six seconds to play. The 37-yard shot wasn't exactly a sure thing as kicker Frank Jordan blew a 20-yard attempt a few minutes earlier. This time he nailed it for the 27-25 win to ruin a 296-yard second half comeback from Montana.
How they ended up: Notre Dame went off to the Cotton Bowl, where Montana pulled off one of his most famous comebacks beating Houston 35-34 in the "chicken soup" game. USC went on to beat Hawaii to close out the regular season 11-1 and won a share of the national title with a 17-10 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

No. 57  Michigan 27 … Penn State 25, October 15, 2005
At the time: Penn State was 6-0, coming off a huge win over Ohio State, and was in the midst of a tremendous resurgent season with a relatively easy slate the rest of the way. But first, Joe Paterno’s club had to get by an apparently dead, unranked Michigan team to really get the national title talk started. The Wolverines were on the verge of a disaster, starting the year 3-3 with losses to Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Minnesota by a total of 13 points, and with a date at Iowa and against Ohio State looming. A loss to Penn State in The Big House might have meant a losing season was possible for the first time since 1967.
The setup:
Down 10-3 going into the fourth quarter, Penn State came back with a four-yard Michael Robinson touchdown run, and then the defense got into the act as Alan Zemaitis stripped Michigan quarterback Chad Henne and took it 35 yards for a score. The snap was botched on the extra point attempt, but Penn State got the two-point conversion for an 18-10 lead. Michigan answered with a 33-yard Mario Manningham touchdown catch followed up by a Mike Hart two-point conversion to tie it at 18. The Wolverines took the lead on a 47-yard Garrett Rivas field goal, but Penn State went on a 13-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, finishing with a three-yard Robinson scoring run with :53 to play for a 25-21 lead.
The ending:
Michigan’s Steve Breaston gave the offense decent field position taking it out to the 47. Henne connected with Jason Avant for 17 yards and Carl Tabb for four before calling timeout with :28 to play on the Penn State 32. Head coach Lloyd Carr screamed, and got, two more seconds put back on the clock after he claimed his team called the time out with :32 to play. Paterno, to put it mildly, wasn’t happy. The offense got the ball down to the Penn State ten with just six seconds to play, but weren’t taking shots in the end zone and were playing with fire. The extra time put back on the clock had meant everything, as Henne misfired on a pass to Breaston leaving one second to play. On fourth and goal from the ten, Henne dropped back, found Mario Manningham cutting in front of Zemaitis, and threw a dart for the winning score with no time left on the clock.
How they ended up: The Nittany Lions were one second away from an undefeated season. They went on to win the Big Ten title and finished third in both polls after beating Florida State in an ugly, wild Orange Bowl marred by several missed field goal attempts at the end. Michigan appeared to turn its season around winning four straight before losing to Ohio State. Down 32-28 late in the Alamo Bowl against Nebraska, the Wolverines almost pulled off the greatest play since the 1982 Stanford – Cal game, with an eight lateral kickoff return that went 51 yards through coaches and players, who were on the field thinking the game was over, only to have Tyler Ecker stopped just short of the goal line. They finished unranked in both polls.

No. 56  Iowa 12 ... Michigan 10, October 19, 1985
At the time: Iowa was 5-0 and ranked No. 1 hosting second-ranked Michigan, who was also 5-0. The Wolverine defense was sensational allowing 21 points in the first five games, while Iowa's offense, led by QB Chuck Long, averaged 44.2 points per game.
The setup: Iowa had few problems moving the ball finishing with 422 yards of total offense, but it had a nightmare of a time scoring only managing three field goals. Michigan's offense did next to nothing unable to get anything consistently going, but a six-yard touchdown pass from Jim Harbaugh to Gerald White meant a 7-6 lead at halftime. Mike Gillette connected on a 40 yard field goal with just under 11 minutes to play to give the Wolverines a 10-9 lead. Iowa had a shot to take the lead on the next drive, but kicker Rob Houghtlin wasn't even close on a 44-yard attempt.
The ending: Long had the ball with 5:27 to play starting on the Iowa 22. Helped by the running of Ronnie Harmon and a few short passes from Long, Iowa methodically moved the ball on a 16 play drive running off enough time to make sure Michigan wouldn't have another shot. Harmon plowed down to the Michigan 12 and Long called a time out with two seconds to play. In came Houghtlin, who had missed several weeks of practice with a leg problem. He nailed the 29-yard kick for his fourth field goal of the game and the win.
How they ended up: Iowa's perfect season was ruined by a 22-13 loss at Ohio State, but it still won the Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl losing 45-28 to UCLA to finish 10-2 and ranked 10th. Michigan didn't lose again, but it tied Illinois 3-3, on the way to a 10-1-1 season and a number two ranking after a 27-23 win over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. For the season, Michigan allowed a total of 98 points.

No. 55
  Minnesota 24 ... Penn State 23, November 6, 1999
At the time: Penn State, led by star defensive players Lavar Arrington and Courtney Brown, was 9-0 ranked second in the nation and screaming towards the national title game. It was supposed to be a big day in Happy Valley with Minnesota the homecoming fodder for Joe Paterno's 400th game as head coach. Minnesota was 5-3 on a two-game losing streak with heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Purdue, but this was one of head coach Glen Mason's strongest teams yet.
The setup: Minnesota hung tough throughout the first three quarters as QB Billy Cockerham threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ron Johnson and ran for a score, but was down 20-15 after missing an extra point and blowing a two-point conversion attempt. With 11:25 to play, Cockerham connected with Thomas Hamner for a 49-yard touchdown and a 21-20 lead after another failed two-point conversion. On the ensuing drive, Travis Forney kicked his third field goal of the second half for a 23-21 lead. The Gophers ended up getting the ball back on its own 20 with 1:50 to go.
The ending: On the first play of the drive, Cockerham and Johnson hooked up for a 46-yard pass. The Nittany Lion defense stiffened forcing 4th and 16 from the Nittany Lion 40 with 1:22 to play. Cockerham threw up a high pass to a covered Johnson. PSU safety Derek Fox batted it away, but it bounced off of Johnson, and then off of Fox, and into the diving hands of Gopher receiver Arland Bruce for the miracle first down. A few conservative plays later, Minnesota ran down the clock to two seconds with the ball on the Nittany Lion 15. Kicker Dan Nystrom came on and got his kick over the outstretched arms of Arrington, who had blocked two key kicks earlier in the season, for a 24-23 Gopher win.
How they ended up: Minnesota won the next two games to finish the regular season 8-3 before losing to Joey Harrington and Oregon 24-20 in the Sun Bowl. Penn State didn't recover losing to Michigan and Michigan State before beating Texas A&M 24-0 in the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3.

No. 54
  Michigan 18 ... Virginia 17, August 26, 1995
At the time: It was the opener for both teams playing the Pigskin Classic in late August. It was the first game for Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr leading his 14th ranked Wolverines against the 17th ranked Cavaliers.
The setup: Virginia stunned the Big House crowd as QB Mike Groh ran for a one-yard score and RB Tiki Barber ran for an 81-yard touchdown on the way to a 17-0 lead with just under 13 minutes to play. Michigan QB Scott Dreisbach, who won a hotly contested quarterback battle with Brian Griese, was having a rough game with two interceptions, but he finally got hot with a long pass to Mercury Hayes leading to a two-yard Ed Davis touchdown run. Remy Hamilton missed the extra point. Hayes scored on Michigan's next drive taking a pass 31 yards for a touchdown, but misfired on the two-point conversion making it 17-12 Virginia midway through the fourth quarter.
The ending: Michigan's defense was able to hold giving the ball back to Dreisbach on the Michigan 20 with 2:35 to play. He was able to move the offense, but he wasn't doing it quickly getting to midfield with around a minute to play and, finally, down to the Virginia 15 with :12 left. First down. Incomplete. Second down. Incomplete. It was third down with six seconds to play and no timeouts left. Dreisbach dropped back and made a rookie mistake throwing it to receiver Tyrone Butterfield well shy of the goal line. Had Butterfield caught it, time would've run out, but he tried to knock it down, missed, and it went up in the air before falling to the turf leaving just enough time on the clock for one more play. Dreisbach, who finished with 372 yards, lopped the ball to the right side of the end zone to Hayes, who had gotten free of Virginia’s Ronde Barber. Hayes made the grab and dragged his toes just enough for the touchdown with no time left on the clock and an 18-17 win.
How they ended up: Michigan won the first five games of the season before losing to eventual Big Ten champion Northwestern. The Wolverines finished 9-4 after losing 22-20 to Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. Virginia bounced back to win its next five games before losing at North Carolina. Two games later, the Cavaliers won a classic game handing Florida State its first loss in ACC play. They finished 9-4 beating Georgia 34-27 in the Peach Bowl.

No. 53  Tulane 24 ... Kentucky 22, November 1, 1980
At the time: Tulane overcame a two-game losing streak to start the season for a 5-3 record. Kentucky, coached by Fran Curci, was struggling with a 2-5 record. Eight years earlier, a Curci coached Miami team beat Tulane helped by getting an extra down late allowing the Canes to complete a 5th and 24 pass on the way to a 24-21 win.
The setup: Tulane was having few problems with the lousy Wildcats taking a 21-6 lead into halftime, but it could've been worse, choosing to go for it on the UK one rather than kick a field goal. Kentucky managed to come back on a third field goal and a two fourth quarter touchdowns for a 22-21 lead with 4:05 left to play. Tulane's offense did next to nothing in the second half and had to give it back to Kentucky. After running the clock down as much as possible, UK punted it back with :12 left.
The ending: On his own eight, Tulane QB Nickie Hall threw a Hail Mary to Marcus Anderson, who caught three touchdown passes in the first half. The two didn't hook up, but Kentucky was nailed with a pass interference call for a penalty putting it on the Wildcat 46 (this was before the pass interference rule changed from a spot foul to 15 yard ). Hall tried it again chucking another Hail Mary to Anderson, and Kentucky got hit with yet another pass interference penalty. This time is was for 42 yards down to the UK eight with no time left on the clock. The game couldn't end on a defensive penalty, so Tulane's Vince Manalla came in with a chance to win the improbable game. He hit the 21-yard kick for the 24-22 victory.
How they ended up: Kentucky bounced back the following week to beat Vanderbilt 31-10, but lost its final two games to finish 3-8. Tulane went on to finish 7-5 losing 34-15 to Arkansas in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

No. 52  Georgia 26 ... Clemson 23, September 22, 1984
At the time: Clemson was 2-0 and ranked second in the nation coming off an impressive 55-0 win on the road against a very good Virginia team. No. 20 Georgia started the season 1-0 with a hard fought 26-19 win over Southern Miss.
The setup: Clemson was cruising up 20-6 at halftime on two Mike Eppley touchdown passes and helped by three interceptions from the defense. Eppley then couldn't hang on to the ball turning it over five times in the second half killing several promising drives. Georgia was able to crawl back into the game tying it at 20 on a one-yard Cleveland Gary touchdown run. The Dawgs took the lead on Kevin Butler's third field goal of the game coming with six minutes to play, but Clemson responded with a 48-yard Donald Igwebuike field goal with 2:10 to go.
The ending: Georgia had a final shot to pull off the win when RB Troy Jackson ran for a 24-yard gain, but the drive stalled on the Clemson 45. Facing 4th and nine with :19 to play, Georgia head coach Vince Dooley chose to send out Butler to attempt a college football record-tying 60-yard field goal. Even with the wind slightly in his face, Butler blasted it through for the 26-23 lead with :11 to play. The Georgia sideline erupted and got nailed for an unsportsmalike conduct penalty. Clemson's Ray Williams fielded the Butler kickoff and threw it across the field to Terrance Roulhac who took off across midfield. He got down to the Georgia 35 before going out of bounds with what appeared to be one second remaining. The clock read 0:00 leading to a conference on the field with the officials and coaches, but the game was declared over.
How they ended up: Georgia lost the following week to South Carolina before reeling off five straight wins. The season came to a crashing thud losing three straight before finishing 7-4-1 after tying Florida State in the Citrus Bowl. Clemson's season took another downturn losing to Georgia Tech the following week before winning five straight. Things ended on a down note losing the final two games including a 22-21 heartbreaker to South Carolina to finish 7-4.

No. 51  Miami 28 ... Florida State 27, October 12, 2002
At the time: Defending national champion and top-ranked Miami was in the midst of a 26-game winning streak before hosting Florida State. The No. 16 Noles were stunned 26-20 by Louisville, but was still 5-1.
The setup: Florida State was playing a tremendous game as RB Greg Jones plowed his way through the Hurricane defense leading the way to a 27-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter. With all appearing lost, Ken Dorsey, who was having a miserable game, got Miami back into range with a 70-yard drive culminating in a two-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Beard. After the Miami defense forced a punt, Dorsey connected with Willis McGahee for a screen pass that went 68 yards down to the FSU 11. Jason Geathers ran for a touchdown on the next play and Todd Sievers hit the extra point for a 28-27 lead with just over five minutes to play.
The ending: FSU got the ball back at its own 45 with 2:04 left. Nick Maddox and Chris Rix each ran for three yards, and then Rix found Talman Gardner for completions of seven and 16 yards to get down to the Miami 25. Two runs went nowhere and Rix misfired on a pass meaning it came down to a 43-yard field goal attempt to ruin Miami's national title season. After losing so many heartbreakers to Miami on game-winning field goal attempts that went wide right, FSU added a new chapter as Xavier Beitia's kick went wide left.
How they ended up: Florida State had two weeks off to deal with the loss and responded with a 34-24 loss to Notre Dame. The Noles ended up winning the ACC title, but finished with an unFlorida State-like 9-5 record after losing 26-13 to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Miami dodged a few more bullets to finish the regular season 12-0, and then lost the national title game 31-24 to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in one of the greatest college football games of all-time.


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