100 Greatest College Football Finishes

Posted Jul 9, 2007

There are great games, and then there are great endings which often define programs and the history of the sport. Which finishes are the best, most important, and most exciting since 1970? It's all debatable, but as far as endings that stand the test of time, and have transcended the sport, can anything beat Kevin Moen and Cal's win over Stanford in 1982?

100 Greatest Finishes - 1 to 5

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 | 61-70 | 71-8081-90 | 91-100  

No. 5  Georgia 26 ... Florida 21, November 8, 1980
At the time: Georgia, led by freshman sensation Herschel Walker, was 8-0 and ranked second in the nation coming off a tough 13-10 win over George Rogers and South Carolina. Florida was coming into the Cocktail Party ranked 20th with a 6-1 record only losing 24-7 to LSU.
The setup: Walker kicked things off with a bang, tearing off a 72-yard touchdown run on the Dawgs' first drive. A 13-yard touchdown pass from Buck Belue gave Georgia a 14-3 lead, but Florida was able to come back late in the first half on a nine-yard touchdown pass to Chris Collinsworth. It still looked like Georgia's day getting up 20-10 on two field goals, but once again, Florida fought back getting within two on a James Jones touchdown run and a two-point conversion pass to Tyrone Young. The comeback seemed complete as Florida took a 21-20 lead on a 40-yard Brian Clark field goal late in the fourth quarter. Georgia's defense was able to keep the Gators from running out the clock, but there was only 1:35 to play with the offense starting on its eight.
The ending: Belue was having a horrible game. Walker was the Georgia offense rushing for 238 yards, while the Bulldog quarterback had only managed 52 passing yards with two interceptions. A sack and an incompletion made it 3rd and ten with 93 yards to go and just over a minute to play. Belue had to get a first down and was looking for Lindsay Scott, who earlier in the year had been booted off the team and had to get over a broken foot. Belue rolled out around his own goal line and found Scott in the middle of the field for the first down. Two Gator defenders appeared to have a bead on the tackle, but they fell allowing Scott to run free down the left sideline making his way for the improbable 93-yard touchdown. Florida's last gasp drive ended before it could start as Georgia's Mike Fisher made a game-sealing interception on the first play.
How they ended up: Florida had a hard time recovering losing two of its final three games before beating Maryland 35-20 in the Tangerine Bowl to finish 8-4 and 19th in the UPI Poll. Georgia won its final three games ending with a 17-10 victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and was national champion in both polls.

No. 4  USC 34 … Notre Dame 31, October 15, 2005
At the time: Notre Dame was in the middle of a resurgent season under new head coach Charlie Weis with a 4-1 record winning on the road at Pitt, Michigan, Washington and Purdue and losing at home to Michigan State. No. 1 USC was the defending national champion coming into South Bend on a 27-game winning streak including three straight wins over Notre Dame by a combined score of 130 to 37.
The setup: It was a dead even game from the start with neither team getting up by more than a touchdown. Down 28-24 with just under five minutes to play, Notre Dame marched 87 yards in eight plays with Brady Quinn completing four straight passes and Darius Walker running three times to get down to the five leading to a Quinn touchdown run with less than two minutes to play for a 31-28 lead.
The ending: USC’s Reggie Bush took the ensuing kickoff to the Trojan 24. Following a sack of Matt Leinart, Bush caught a 12-yard pass to make it fourth and nine with 1:32 to play. Leinart sized up the defense, audibled out of the play call, and threw, considering the circumstances, one of the most precise clutch passes in college football history connecting with Dwayne Jarrett for a quick strike that went 61 yards down to the Irish 13. A few Bush runs later made it first and goal from Notre Dame two, but time was quickly running out and USC didn’t have any timeouts left. On first and goal, Leinart ran to the left, tried to dive into the end zone, and got popped well short of the goal line. Fans and players rushed the field thinking the game was over, but few saw the ball go flying out of bounds on the hit to stop the clock giving USC another life with seven seconds remaining. With USC coaches signaling to spike the ball to stop the clock, Leinart chose to try to sneak it in for what would be USC’s final play no matter what the outcome. After twisting, turning, and getting a little help from behind on what would be known as the Bush Push, Leinart got into the end zone for the game-winning score with three seconds to play. Notre Dame wasn’t able to do anything with the last gasp kickoff return.

How they ended up: USC would extend its winning streak to 34 games before losing the national championship to Texas 41-38 in one of the greatest games of all-time. Notre Dame won its final five games to get into the BCS where it lost to Ohio State 34-20. Had the Irish been able to hang on against USC, they likely would’ve ended up playing Texas in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.

No. 3  Boston College 47 ... Miami 45, November 23, 1984
At the time: The game had been moved to the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend to highlight defending national champion Miami vs. the eventual Heisman trophy winner Doug Flutie. Bernie Kosar and the Canes were 8-3 coming off a 42-40 loss to Maryland in the biggest choke/comeback in college football history blowing a 31-0 lead. Boston College was 7-2 with losses to West Virginia and Penn State.
The setup: The points were flying as Miami's Melvin Bratton scored four touchdowns including a 52-yard run in the fourth quarter and a one-yard run for a 45-41 lead with :30 to play. Kosar also put up big numbers with a 447-yard passing day with two touchdown passes in what appeared to be the game to end the Miami regular season on a high note. Flutie wasn't to be denied with a touchdown run and two touchdown passes including a nine-yard throw to Gerard Phelan. It was one of the most exciting games of all time with the Canes apparently coming out on top.
The ending: On his own 20, Flutie had one final drive starting off with a pass to Troy Stradford, who was able to get out of bounds at the Miami 48. An incompletion left six seconds on the clock and BC stuck with one last play. It was called 55 Flood Tip. Flutie scrambled to his right narrowly averting a sack, and then let it fly. He let it go from around his own 37-yard line meaning the 5-9 QB had to wing the ball 63+ yards after already throwing it 45 times and scrambling around all game long. The Miami defensive backs didn't think Flutie could throw it to the end zone, so they didn't pay much attention to Phelan as he ran behind them. The ball came straight down over the mass of players untouched into Phelan's arms for the 47-45 Eagle win. The hard part was for Phelan to adjust to the ball not hitting anybody as he was waiting for it to be tipped. Phelan finished with 11 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns while Flutie completed 34 of 46 passes for 476 yards, three touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, one miracle, and one Heisman Trophy.
How they ended up: BC beat Holy Cross before getting past Houston 45-28 in the Cotton Bowl to finish 10-2 and 4th in the UPI poll and 5th in the AP. Miami ended the season with a 39-37 loss to UCLA in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 8-5 and 18th in the AP poll.
No. 2  Boise State 43 … Oklahoma 42, Fiesta Bowl, January 1, 2007
At the time: 12-0 Boise State broke through the barrier and got a BCS bid, but almost no one thought it’d have much of a shot against Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion, despite being eighth in the BCS rankings, while OU was tenth. The Sooners had gone through adversity from the start of the year, from losing starting quarterback Rhett Bomar to suspension to losing to Oregon, helped by a controversial missed call, to losing star runner Adrian Peterson for a stretch with a broken collarbone. The Broncos had one nice win over Oregon State earlier in the year, but didn’t get too much national respect after winning the WAC.
The setup: Boise State had stunned the Sooners on the way to a 28-10 third quarter lead. While the Broncos had been sharp and productive, OU didn’t help its cause with several mistakes and generally poor play. A Peterson touchdown run and a Garrett Hartley field goal cut the lead to eight early in the fourth, but the real fun didn’t begin until Oklahoma’s offense started to move with 2:14 to play.
The ending:
Oklahoma fought back to tie the game with a five-yard Quentin Chaney touchdown catch with 1:26 to play. After penalties forced a third two-point conversion try, Sooner quarterback Paul Thompson found Juaquin Iglesias for the tie. On the next play from scrimmage, Boise State’s Jared Zabransky was picked off by Marcus Walker for a 33-yard interception return for a score and an improbably 35-28 OU lead. With under a minute to go, Boise State went 78 yards in five plays, converting on 4th and 18 for a 35-yard touchdown on a hook-and-lateral with Drisan James catching the ball and pitching it to Jerard Rabb, who took it for the score with seven seconds in regulation. In overtime, Peterson ran for a 25-yard score on OU’s first play. Boise State, facing another big fourth down, ran a trick play for a touchdown on a five-yard touchdown pass from backup wide receiver Vinny Parretta to tight end Derek Schouman. Instead of forcing a second overtime, the Broncos went for the win, and got it, on a Statue of Liberty play, with Ian Johnson taking the ball around the left side for an untouched two-point conversion and the win.
How they ended up: Boise State finished the season fifth in the AP Poll and sixth in the Coaches’ Poll, while Oklahoma ended up 11th in each. While only time will tell the true impact of the Broncos’ win, it might have been a landmark victory for the “mid-major” programs when it comes to national respect.
No. 1  California 25 ... Stanford 20, November 20, 1982
At the time: California was having a strong 6-4 year in head coach Joe Kapp's first season. Stanford and senior QB John Elway were 5-5 and needed to beat Cal to go to the Hall of Fame Bowl for the only bowl bid in the Elway era. It was an uneven season, but Stanford had beaten No. 1 Washington 43-31 for its fifth win to get in range for a post-season appearance.
The setup: Stanford was on its way to a hard-fought, comeback 20-19 win after Cardinal kicker Mark Harmon hit a 35-yard field goal to seemingly put away its archrival. Elway, who had thrown for 330 yards with two touchdown passes, led the offense on an epic drive for Harmon's kick with just a few seconds remaining. The Stanford sideline went nuts running on the field and was nailed with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Who cares? All Stanford had to do was kick it off, make the tackle, and the game would be over.
The ending: Harmon, not wanting to give up a big return, squibbed his kickoff into the hands of Cal's Kevin Moen. About to be tackled, Moen tossed the ball to Richard Rodgers. Rodgers lateraled the ball to Dwight Garner. Garner was tackled, but desperately got the ball away back to Rodgers. The Bears were still around midfield. Rodgers then lateraled the ball to Mariet Ford. Yes, the play was still alive. Unfolding in front of the college football world was the embodiment of moments played out on sandlots and playgrounds as long as kids have played football, rugby, and Kill the Quarterback games. The band and the Stanford fans were on the field thinking the game was over, but Ford flung the ball wildly behind him into the hands of Moen, the man who started it all, who weaved and raced his way to the end zone dodging Stanford defenders and band members before crushing a trombone player after a triumphant leap. Did they really do it? After a huddle by officials for more than five minutes, they declared the impossible play a touchdown for the 25-20 Bear win.
How they ended up: Pac 10 officials reviewed the game tape a few days later and saw two problems. First, the Bears should've been flagged for an illegal formation on the kickoff. Second, Cal only had nine men on the field with the other two players running on after the kick was rolling. Even so, Stanford had players, and the band, on the field before the game ended and should've been flagged. Stanford finished 5-6 with Elway never getting to play in a bowl. Cal finished 7-4.


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