Getting to the National Championship Game is a very difficult task and sometimes it takes a little luck on the journey to get there. Conversely, luck may favor the underdog and play a role in ending a team's National Championship aspirations. Below I have listed my top 5 miracles in D1 NCAA football. Enjoy!
#5 Hail Flutie
On Thanksgiving night in 1984, the #10 Boston College Eagles were trailing the #12 Miami Hurricanes (who were the defending National Champions) 45-41 in Miami. With six seconds left in the game, Eagles quarterback, Doug Flutie, dropped back for the last play of the game. After eluding a Miami defender, Flutie chucked up a prayer from his own 36-yard line. There was no time left on the clock.
The ball had more than enough air under it and went right over the Miami defenders into the hands of receiver Gerald Phelan. Phelan jumped in ecstasy as the refs ruled it a touchdown and a Boston College win. Flutie would go on to win the Heisman the next week and the Eagles would end their season with a 45-28 victory over Houston in the Cotton Bowl. Miami, who had blown a 31-0 lead to Maryland a one week prior to this game, would end their season with a 39-37 loss to #14 UCLA in the Fiesta Bowl.
#4 The Flea Kicker
The #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers had National Championship dreams as they traveled to Columbia to take on the rival Missouri Tigers in Big-12 play. Their dreams were turning into nightmares as Nebraska was down 38-31 with the ball and seven seconds left. They were on the Missouri 12-yard line and Cornhusker QB, Scott Frost, dropped back for the last play of the game.
He threw a rocket over the middle to Shevin Wiggins. The pass was broken up and as the ball fell to the turf, Wiggins kicked it up. Out of nowhere, Nebraska receiver Matt Davison came diving in and caught the ball for a touchdown! Mizzou fans rushed the field thinking they had just beaten the #1 team in the country. Amidst all this chaos, the refs conferred and ruled that it was indeed a touchdown. The fans were sent back to their seats and Nebraska would win the game 45-38 in overtime.
This win preserved Nebraska's undefeated season on route to their third National Championship in four years. Missouri, who came so close to spoiling their rival's season, would end their season with a 35-24 loss in the Holiday Bowl to Colorado State 35-24
#3 The Play
In their annual matchup, the Stanford Cardinal and California Golden Bears met in 1982 with bragging rights and the Stanford Axe trophy on the line. This was also the last collegiate game of a Stanford quarterback who happened to be named John Elway.
After Elway lead the team down the field in his final collegiate drive, Stanford kicked a field goal to take a 20-19 lead. The Cardinal celebrated a little too excessively after the kick and were penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. There was four seconds left, what could Cal possibly do with four seconds?
Stanford squib kicked it and Cal's only chance to win the game would be if they ran the kick back for a touchdown. Defensive back Kevin Moen fielded the kick and quickly lateraled it to teammate Richard Rogers. He lateraled it to Dwight Garner, who was quickly surrounded by Stanford players. Garner was able to lateral it back to Rogers who took off past midfield and lateraled it to Mariet Ford.
As all of this was unfolding, the Stanford band ran out onto the field because they thought the game had ended when Garner was tackled. Ford saw the band but kept running until he was hit by two Stanford players at the 27-yard line. Ford threw up a lateral that was caught by the instigator Moen. Moen caught it and was off to the races as he avoided both the Stanford players and the band. He ran into the end zone and crushed a trombone player.
The refs didn't know what to do! Laterals, the band on the field, it was complete chaos in Berkely! After a few minutes of conferring, the refs ruled it a touchdown! Cal had won in the most unbelievable fashion imaginable! Both teams seasons ended that day and it's still the biggest Cal win over Stanford in program history.
To this day, controversy still surrounds "The Play." Many think that Garner was down before the thrid lateral and that Ford's final lateral to Moen was a few yards forward. Elway was also not too happy about his college career ending the way it did. I don't think he should be too mad, considering he went #1 in the NFL draft, won the 1987 MVP, and ended his career with two Super Bowl victories.
#2 The 2007 Fiesta Bowl
The 2007 Fiesta Bowl is regarded as one of the greatest college football games of all time! It featured what looked like a complete mismatch between the #10 Oklahoma Sooners and the #8 Boise State Broncos. Don't let the rankings fool you, Oklahoma was favored to win this game by a touchdown (which I thought was being gracious to Boise State).
Boise State was actually in control most of the game until a late pick six made it 35-28 Oklahoma with 1:02 left in the game. The Broncos got the ball right back and soon found themselves facing 4th and 18 with 18 seconds left in the ballgame. It looked like David would not slay Goliath tonight.
Quarterback Jared Zabranksy dropped back and hit wide receiver Drisan James, who was a few yards short of the first down line. With five Oklahoma players closing in, it looked like the Fiesta Bowl was Oklahoma's. But this play was far from over. Teammate Jerard Rabb came sprinting across the field and James lateraled the ball to him. Rabb caught it in-stride and ran down the sideline for the touchdown with seven seconds remaining!
After Oklahoma's star running back, Adrian Peterson, scored on the first play of overtime, Boise State's back was up against the wall once again. The Broncos were down to their last play once again when a 4th and 2 arose on the Sooners' 5-yard line. The Broncos went with another trick play out of the Wildcat formation. Backup wide receiver Vinny Perretta took the snap and connected with tight end Derek Schouman to pull within an extra point of double overtime!
At this point, Broncos head coach Chris Petersen was done toying with Goliath. It was time to go for the kill. He sent his offense back out there for the two-point conversion. He had the perfect play in mind. Zabransky took the snap and faked a pass to his right. He then put the ball behind his back and running back Ian Johnson took it and ran untouched into the end zone. The Broncos won the game 43-42 and proved that the little schools could compete with the national powerhouses on the big stage.
Boise State would win another Fiesta Bowl just three years later with a 17-10 victory over #4 TCU. Oklahoma would struggle in its next couple of BCS bowl games as it lost the 2008 Fiesta Bowl to #9 West Virginia 48-28 and the 2009 BCS National Championship to #2 Florida 24-14. The Sooners got back on track this past season with a 45-31 victory over #3 Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
#1 The Miracle at Jordan-Hare/Kick Six
The 2013 Auburn football team had two plays so miraculous, that I had to group them together on this list. I'll start with the Miracle at Jordan-Hare. Auburn, ranked #7th in the country, was trailing #25 Georgia 38-37 with 36 seconds left in the game. Facing 4th and 18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw up a pass that looked like an easy interception.
The only problem was that two Georgia defenders broke on the ball, and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons accidentally tipped the ball up to Auburn's Ricardo Louis. Louis juggled the ball before securing it and running into the end zone for what would be the game winning touchdown. This loss would end Georgia's chances of winning the SEC East.
I remember talking to my father on the phone during this play and screaming when I saw this unravel right before me on my TV screen up at UF. Little did I know what awaited just two weeks later.
Cue the second part of the #1 miraculous play on my list. With the score tied at 28, #1 Alabama and #4 Auburn (amazing the difference two weeks makes in rankings) looked like they were heading to overtime after Alabama's T.J. Yeldon stepped out of bounds as time expired. Alabama head coach Nick Saban, however, claimed that he had one second left. The replays agreed with Saban and one of the most despised coaches in America got his one second put back on the clock.
His star kicker, Cade Foster, had missed three field goals on the day, so Saban went with freshman kicker Adam Griffith for a 57-yard field goal attempt. Griffith's attempt was short and Auburn cornerback Chris Davis fielded the missed kick. I was surprised when I saw Davis appear on the screen because I didn't even know that Auburn had sent someone back to field the kick.
Davis took the ball upfield and eluded some Alabama players. I thought he stepped out of bounds at one point and I thought the play was over. I heard no whistles, though, and saw Davis kept running. Next thing I knew, he had nothing but open grass in front of him! I couldn't believe what was happening until Davis ran into the end zone. Auburn had just walked off with a 109 yard touchdown return to beat Alabama 34-28! Not only that, they ended Alabama's bid for a third straight National Championship!
I was screaming so much during this play that my father got upset with me because he was on the phone. After seeing the two time defending National Champions go down like this to their arch rival, I felt it was very much worth it. Auburn would go on to win the SEC Championship 59-42 over #5 Missouri and would lose the last ever BCS National Championship to #1 Florida State 34-31.
Alabama, who might have had a shot at the National Championship if Auburn has lost to Mizzou, would have to settle with a Sugar Bowl berth against the #11 Oklahoma Sooners. The Crimson Tide would lose to the Sooners 45-31, handing them back to back losses for the first time since 2008. It's amazing the difference that one second makes.
I hope you enjoyed this Top 5! I will have another one coming out next week!
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