100 Greatest Finishes - No. 21 to 30

Posted Jul 9, 2007

The 100 Greatest College Football Finishes since 1970 ... No. 21 to No. 30

100 Greatest Finishes - 21 to 30

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 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-8081-90 | 91-100  

No. 30  SMU 34 ... Texas Tech 27, November 13, 1982
At the time: No. 2 SMU was in its heyday, coming into the game on a 13-game winning streak and a 9-0 record led by the Pony Express, Eric Dickerson and Craig James. Texas Tech wasn't doing too much with a 4-5 record, but had beaten SMU six straight times.
The setup: A blocked punt led to a 16-yard James touchdown giving the Mustangs a 24-10 lead late in the third quarter, but Texas Tech was able to bounce back on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Buzz Tatom. One 71-yard Anthony Hutchinson touchdown run later, and the Red Raiders tied it up. After an SMU field goal, Hutchinson was able to make a big fourth down play leading Tech to a march down to the Mustang 11 as the clock was running down. In came Ricky Gann for a 28-yard field goal and a 27-27 tie with :17 to play. With no overtime, the Mustang winning streak appeared to be over.
The ending: Worried about a kickoff return for a touchdown, Texas Tech decided to squib it to run down time. SMU head coach Bobby Collins was prepared and sent in defensive back Blane Smith to field the kick and throw it across the field to receiver Bobby Leach who would, in theory, have a wall of blockers to run behind. Smith was in position, but he had a hard time fielding the ball bobbling it before chucking it backwards to Leach a split-second before being blasted by Red Raiders. Leach grabbed it off the turf on the nine and didn't have anyone in front of him going 91 yards for the touchdown and the 34-27 win.
How they ended up: Following the "Miracle on Fourth Avenue", the Mustangs tied Arkansas 17-17 barely missing a win on a short 52-yard field goal attempt. Even so, they still won the SWC title and a spot in the Cotton Bowl beating Pittsburgh and Dan Marino 7-3 to finish 11-0-1 and second in both polls. Texas Tech lost to Houston 24-7 to finish 4-7.

No. 29  LSU 17 ... Ole Miss 16
, November 4, 1972
At the time: No. 6 LSU was 6-0 and on a ten-game wining streak against an Ole Miss team that broke a three-game losing streak with a 31-7 win over Vanderbilt to get to 4-3. This was supposed to be a walk in the park for the Tigers with the big game against Alabama coming up the following week.
The setup: LSU had a hard time getting going, down 16-10 early in the fourth quarter as Rebel QB Norris Weese ran for a touchdown and Steve Lavinghouze kicked three field goals. Coming in for a fourth field goal attempt, Lavinghouze missed a 27-yarder that would've put Ole Miss up 19-10. Tiger QB Bert Jones took a long sack trying to convert on fourth down and Ole Miss appeared to have things wrapped up. But the Rebel offense couldn't do anything from the LSU 45 and gave the ball back to Jones on his own 20 with just over three minutes to play.
The ending:
Jones started off the drive with a long completion, but he faced a fourth and one in Ole Miss territory. A six-yard pickup gave the Tigers the first down, but the clock was quickly ticking down. With ten seconds to play, LSU had it on the Ole Miss 20. The Rebels were nailed with a pass interference call putting it on the ten with four seconds to play. With what appeared to be one final chance, Jones misfired on a throw to the end zone, but miraculously, the Death Valley clock showed one second to play. The celebrating, and stunned, Rebels had to gear up for one more play. Jones looked at his three receivers, but the play was called for his running back, Brad Davis, to run out of the backfield and to the back of the end zone. Jones didn't look at Davis until the last second so the play could develop, but he threw a duck. It got to Davis, who had a hard time seeing the ball in the lights, bobbled it, and was knocked out of bounds. The official signaled touchdown triggering a mass of Tiger fans running on the field with the extra point still to come. Several minutes later, Rusty Jackson hit the extra point for the 17-16 win.
How they ended up: Ole Miss never got over the clock gaffe as the 1973 media guide read Ole Miss 16, LSU 10+7. The following week, the Tigers lost 35-21 to Alabama. They ended the year with a 24-17 loss to Tennessee in the Bluebonnet Bowl to finish 9-2-1 ranking 11th in the AP and 10th in the UPI. Ole Miss split its final two games to finish 5-5.

No. 28  Michigan 27 ... Indiana 21, October 27, 1979
At the time: Lee Corso's Indiana team was a solid 5-2 with a loss to a great Ohio State team and a 17-16 heartbreaker to Colorado. Michigan was ranked 10th in the nation with a 6-1 record with the one loss coming in a 12-10 thriller to Notre Dame.
The setup: Michigan was having a rough Homecoming. The Hoosiers got up 14-7 at the end of the first half and knocked out Michigan starting quarterback B.J. Dickey. However, the Wolverine power game kicked into high gear with Lawrence Reid running for a 50-yard score and Butch Woolfolk scoring from two yards out for a 21-14 lead. IU had one last drive in the final minutes of the game.
The ending: Hoosier QB Tim Clifford connected with Nate Lundy for 54 yards before throwing a three-yard touchdown pass to Dave Harangody with less than a minute remaining. Down by one, Corso decided to pass up the golden opportunity for the win and went for the tie, getting the extra point for an apparent 21-21 final. Michigan didn't do much with the ball to start its final drive, only getting to its 31 with :36 to play. On fourth and one, Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler didn't take the Corso way out. Instead, he went for it, and got it with a four-yard Butch Woolfolk run. Even so, IU almost had a shot to get in a position for the monumental upset after Tim Wilbur picked off UM backup quarterback John Wangler, but couldn't get his foot in bounds, giving the Wolverines life with :14 left on its own 44 and no timeouts. A completed pass moved the ball to midfield on a pass to Reid, who threw it backwards out of bounds to stop the clock. Six seconds remained. Michigan freshman Anthony Carter ran a post pattern to the 25, catching the ball just as he was popped by two IU defenders. The collision left both Hoosiers on the ground and Carter breaking away for the end zone. Almost tackled just before crossing the goal line, Carter found his way in for a 27-21 win.
How they ended up: Michigan beat Wisconsin 54-0 the week after and then crashed with three straight losses by a total of nine points. Bo's boys finished 8-4 with a 17-15 loss to North Carolina in the Gator Bowl and a No. 18 ranking in the AP and 19 ranking in the UPI Poll. Indiana bounced back to win three of its final four games finishing up by handing BYU its only loss with a 38-37 Holiday Bowl victory. Corso's team was 8-4 and ranked 16th in the UPI poll and 19th in the AP.

No. 27  Notre Dame 35 ... Houston 34, Cotton Bowl, January 1, 1979
At the time: Notre Dame and Joe Montana were 8-3 coming off a dramatic, last-second, 27-25 loss to No. 3 USC to break an eight-game winning streak. Houston, led by the Bill Yeoman veer offense, was 9-2 and ranked fourth winning nine of its last ten games.
The setup: Houston dominated early but was only up 20-12 at halftime in the bitter cold Cotton Bowl. Montana, who went one-for-11 to start the game, was suffering from the flu and wasn't helped by the below-zero wind chills. At halftime, he had hypothermia needing blankets, warm liquids, and famously, chicken soup to bring his body temperature up. It didn't matter as the Cougars led 34-12 late with Tim Koegel taking over at quarterback for the Irish. With less than seven minutes to play, Houston was playing its backups, but the game got a little interesting when the Irish scored on a 33-yard blocked punt for a touchdown. Feeling a bit better, Montana came back in and threw the two-point conversion to get within 34-20.
The ending: Montana got the ball back and marched the offense 61 yards in five plays ending with a two-yard touchdown run to get within six. Houston's running attack couldn't heat back up and had to give the ball back to the Irish, but the Cougar defense appeared to have saved the day by forcing a Montana fumble, and a UH recovery, with 1:50 to play. On fourth-and-inches with :34 to play, and with the punting game struggling with the wind, Yeoman chose to go for it, but the Irish defense held, getting the ball to Montana on the Cougar 29 with :28 to play. Two plays later, the Irish had it on the eight with six seconds to play. After one incompletion, there was time for one more play with just two seconds to go. Montana ran to his right and found Kris Haines in the corner of the end zone for a diving grab just before going out of bounds. Joe Unis hit the extra point to cap a 23-point fourth quarter and a 35-34 win.
How they ended up: Notre Dame finished 9-3 and seventh in the AP poll and sixth in the UPI. Houston finished 9-3 ranking tenth in the AP and 11th in the UPI

No. 26  Marshall 64 ... East Carolina 61, GMAC Bowl December 19, 2001
At the time: Marshall, led by QB Byron Leftwich, was coming off a disappointing MAC title game losing to Toledo 41-36, but had been on a ten-game winning streak after starting the season with a 49-14 loss to Florida. East Carolina, led by QB David Garrard, had an uneven 6-5 season closing out with two straight losses after winning four straight.
The setup: East Carolina was in command with a 38-8 halftime lead with two Garrard touchdown runs and two defensive scores. Marshall came out roaring in the second half with two interception returns for touchdowns and two touchdown runs for a 28-point quarter, but was still down 41-36 going into the fourth. A 55-yard Leonard Henry touchdown run appeared to ice things for the Pirates, but a field goal got the Herd close with Leftwich getting one more shot down 51-45.
The ending: Leftwich, who finished with 576 passing yards, was 80 yards away with less than a minute to play and with no time outs. On fire, he got the Herd into position and then floated a ten-yard touchdown pass to Darius Watts with seven seconds to play to tie it at 51 and only needing the extra point for the improbable win. One problem: Curtis Head missed the extra point. East Carolina got new life, but the defense didn't come through in the first overtime as Franklin Wallace scored on a two-yard touchdown run. ECU's offense answered with a 25-yard Henry touchdown run. In the second OT, ECU had to settle for a 37-yard Kevin Miller field goal. With the door open, Leftwich busted through with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Darius Watts for the 64-61 win.
How they ended up: Despite the thrilling win and an 11-2 record, Marshall didn't finish in the AP top 25, but it did rank 21st in the Coaches' Poll. East Carolina finished 6-6. Leftwich and Garrard would later be teammates on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

No. 25  Nebraska 45 … Missouri 38, November 8, 1997
(Note: We bow to the will of the masses on this one who convinced us this game, in fact, has to be included among the all-time greatest endings and not just the greatest games.)
At the time: Nebraska was 8-0 and had won 18 of its last 19 games during a dominating stretch. In four Big 12 games, the Huskers had outscored their opponents 169-28, highlighted by a 56-26 win over a Kansas State team that would finish 11-1. The defense had allowed just seven points in the last three games. Missouri’s offense had suddenly taken off, scoring a total of 92 points in two straight road wins at Oklahoma State and Colorado, but the Tigers were 6-3 and not appearing to be too much of a threat to stop the Big Red Machine.
The setup: It was a wild game throughout with tremendous drives, phenomenal quarterback play from Missouri’s Corby Jones and Nebraska’s Scott Frost, and a temporary shower from a sprinkler that went off in one of the end zones. The Tiger offense was all but unstoppable scoring 38 points after taking the lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Brooks. There were the most allowed by a Nebraska team since a 45-21 loss to Georgia Tech in the 1991 Citrus Bowl, a span of 82 games, but the Husker kept pace, helped by three Frost touchdown runs. Still, the Tigers had a chance late to close things out, but had to punt the ball away with just over a minute to play. Nebraska got the ball on its own 33 with 1:02 remaining.
The ending: Frost, not known for his passing, coolly and calmly led the offense down the field, even shaking off a near interception, but the mid-range passes only got the Huskers down to the Mizzou 12 with seven seconds to play. With one final chance, Frost dropped back, seemingly had all day to throw, and fired across the middle to Shevin Wiggins, who was separated from the ball by Tiger defensive back Julius Jones. The ball appeared to be headed for the ground, when at the last possible second, Wiggins kicked the ball up in the air as he was falling down, popping it up just enough for Matt Davison to come diving in to make the grab and give the Huskers a chance to kick the extra point to force overtime. Kris Brown nailed it, Frost ran for his fourth score of the day on a 12-yard dash, and the Husker defense held, sacking Jones to complete the miracle.
How they ended up: Michigan fans are the only ones who bristle at the games ending as much as the Missouri faithful. Nebraska won its last four games of the year, obliterating Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship and embarrassing Peyton Manning and Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl to finish 13-0 and the USA Today/Coaches Poll national title. Michigan finished first in the AP poll to split the title. Missouri recovered to trounce lowly Baylor, but finished 7-5 after losing to Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl.

No. 24  Syracuse 32 ... West Virginia 31, November 21, 1987
At the time: Syracuse, led by Heisman candidate QB Don McPherson, was in the hunt for the national title with a 10-0 record, only needing to beat West Virginia for an unbeaten regular season. West Virginia was 6-4 and had a chance to ruin the Orangemen dream.
The setup: McPherson and the Orangemen were getting all they could handle from West Virginia freshman quarterback Major Harris, who amassed 266 yards of total offense and ran for two touchdowns. Mountaineer RB Undra Johnson had 119 yards on the way to a 31-10 lead going into the fourth quarter. McPherson furiously rallied the team back with two touchdowns, but it still appeared over with the West Virginia running attack looking to run out the clock. The Orangmen D held, giving McPherson one last shot.
The ending: With the Carrier Dome rocking, Syracuse moved the ball to the Mountaineer 17 with a chance at one final play. McPherson rifled a touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to make it 31-30 and a chance to get out with a tie by kicking the extra point. Instead, head coach Dick MacPherson, with the national title in mind, chose to go for two. McPherson optioned to his left and pitched the ball at the last possible second to running back Michael Owens. With Mountaineer linebacker Donnell Warren seemingly in a position to make the stop, Owens sped to the pylon barely slipping across for the two-point conversion and a 32-31 win to keep the dream season alive.
How they ended up: Despite being 11-0, Syracuse's chances for a national title were slim with unbeatens Miami and Oklahoma playing in the Orange Bowl. In the Sugar Bowl, Auburn head coach Pat Dye chose to go for the 16-16 tie rather than try for the win, ending the Orangemen season at 11-0-1 and ranked fourth in both polls. McPherson finished second in the Heisman voting behind Notre Dame’s Tim Brown. West Virginia lost the Sun Bowl 35-33 to Oklahoma State to finish 6-6, but the season proved to be a catalyst for Harris and the Mountaineers as they went undefeated in the 1988 regular season, but lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Notre Dame for the national title.

No. 23  Tennessee 28 ... Arkansas 24, November 14, 1998
At the time: No. 1 Tennessee was 8-0 and with a few classic wins early to be in the hunt for the national title. Arkansas was also unbeaten at 8-0 coming off a 34-0 win over Ole Miss. This was played in front of 106,365 people in UTs Neyland Stadium, the largest crowd and Arkansas team had ever played in front of.
The setup: Arkansas stunned the huge orange crowd by jumping out to a 21-3 lead. The Vols managed to get within 24-17 on a Tee Martin touchdown run, but the offense was stuffed in the red zone on the next drive forcing a field goal and a 24-20 Hog lead. But Arkansas couldn't keep the pressure on getting a field goal blocked with just over six minutes to play. Once again, the Arkansas defense stiffened to force a punt, but UT's David Leaverton came through with a beauty to pin the Hogs on their one-yard line. After driving out to their 41, the Hogs needed to punt it away, but the snap flew over Chris Akin's head and was booted through the end zone for a safety and a 24-22 Arkansas lead with under three minutes to play.
The ending: Tennessee's offense couldn't do anything and had to give it back to Arkansas. Appearing to be on its way to win by running out the clock with 1:43 to go, QB Clint Stoerner went back to try to pick up the first down to put the game on ice. Instead, he tripped and lost the ball as he was trying to regain his balance. UT's Billy Ratliff recovered the fumble on the Arkansas 43 to give the Vols a new life. It then became the Travis Henry show as he ran five straight times, finishing with 197 yards on the day, powering through for a one-yard touchdown with :28 to play.
How they ended up: The following week, a down Hog team lost 22-21 to Mississippi State and ended up 9-3, ranked 16th in the AP poll and 17th in the Coaches' poll after losing 45-31 to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Tennessee rolled the rest of the way winning its final four games culminating with a 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship.

No. 22  Michigan State 26 ... Michigan 24
, November 3, 2001
At the time: Michigan overcame an early loss to Washington for a 6-1 record including a win over Illinois to be the favorite for the Big Ten title. Michigan State suffered losses to Northwestern and Minnesota for a 2-2 Big Ten record and was 4-2 overall.
The setup: The two star receivers made a lot of big plays as Michigan's Marquis Walker, who ended up with nine catches for 150 yards, caught touchdown passes from 14 and 32 yards out and MSU's Charles Rogers, who caught six passes for 86 yards, made a 17-yard scoring grab. But the day would belong to Spartan RB T.J. Duckett, who finished with 211 rushing yards and a two-yard rushing touchdown, and a Michigan defense that sacked Jeff Smoker 12 times. Michigan was able to take a 24-20 lead on a 20-yard touchdown pass from John Navarre to Jermaine Gonzalez with 4:44 to play. MSU got the ball back one more time with 2:09 to go.
The ending: Michigan State's final drive appeared to be dead after a 4th and 16 pass from midfield fell incomplete, but Wolverine CB Jeremy LeSueur was flagged for pass interference on Rogers. The Wolverines were mad enough at that call, and later got nailed with a flag for too many men on the field following a Spartan timeout, putting MSU on the 12. LeSueur made amends by breaking up a touchdown pass to Duckett with only :17 to play. Smoker was able to scramble down to the Michigan two and immediately jumped up to spike the ball as time appeared to have run out, or was flickering :01 on the clock depending on which side you were on. Despite the screams of the Wolverine coaching staff, there was one final play. Smoker dropped back and was looking for anyone to get the ball to, while in the end zone, Duckett was frantically waving his arms. A split second before getting flattened, Smoker got the throw off in a jump ball for Duckett. The Spartan running back was able to make the catch while being hit by Wolverine defenders for the controversial 26-24 win. Despite the clock reading 0:00, there was an argument that the extra point should've at least been tried as Michigan could've returned a miracle play for two points, but the game was over.
How they ended up: Michigan ended up losing to Ohio State on the season's final game giving the Big Ten title to Illinois. Things didn't get much better for Lloyd Carr's bunch with a 45-17 loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl to finish 8-4 and 20th in both polls. Michigan State lost its next three games after the Michigan win before beating Missouri 55-7 and David Carr’s Fresno State team 44-35 the Silicon Valley Bowl to finish 7-5.

No. 21  USC 28 ... Oklahoma 24, September 26, 1981
At the time: It was No. 1 vs. No. 1 as Oklahoma, with a 37-20 win over Wyoming, was 1-0 ranked tops in the AP poll vs. 2-0 USC, with an impressive 43-7 win over Tennessee and a 21-0 victory over Indiana, holding the top spot in the UPI poll.
The setup: Oklahoma's wishbone was running the ball at will, but drive after drive after drive was stopped by fumbles with ten fumbles, five of them lost. Even so, OU was able to take a 24-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Equally difficult to stop was USC RB Marcus Allen, who finished with 208 yards and two touchdowns. His second, a three-yard score, got the Trojans to within three with over six minutes left to play. OU's running game, which finished with 307 yards, was looking to go on a long drive to run out the clock, but USC's defense was able to come up with a stop to give the ball back to the offense with 4:28 left. While the running game was moving the ball, it was taking up too much time, forcing the Trojans to use QB John Mazur to start throwing.
The ending: Mazur made the plays he had to, finding Jeff Simmons for 26 yards and running for a first down on 4th and one before finding Malcom Moore for a 15-yard pass with :17 to play. From the seven, Mazur misfired to Allen on first down, and then had a wide-open Allen in the end zone on second down. However, USC TE Fred Cornwell thought the pass was for him and tipped it away with nine seconds to play. Instead of going for the tie, USC head coach John Robinson called the same play that had sprung Allen open before. It didn't work, as Mazur was forced to scramble just as Cornwell was able to break free in the back left corner of the end zone. Mazur put his throw on the money for the touchdown with two-seconds to play and a 28-24 lead. OU made the final kickoff interesting as Buster Rhymes got out to the 40 before being stopped.
How they ended up: Oklahoma didn't exactly come back roaring with a 7-7 tie against Iowa State before losing 34-14 to Texas. The Sooners ended the year with a 40-14 Sun Bowl win over Houston to finish 7-4-1 and 14th in the UPI poll and 20th in the AP. USC started the season winning eight of its first nine games, hurt by a 13-10 loss to Arizona. A 26-10 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl closed out a 9-3 campaign to finish 13th in the UPI poll and 14th in the AP.


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