College football: The Play, and more of best last-second, game-winning touchdowns in history
Known thereafter as simply "The Play," one of the craziest finishes in sports history happened on Nov. 20, 1982, in the final seconds of the California vs. Stanford game.
Cal returned a Stanford kickoff for the game-winning touchdown as time expired with the help of five lateral passes while the Cardinal band wandered onto the field.
Stanford took a 20-19 lead with 4 seconds on the clock thanks to a late drive by Cardinal quarterback John Elway. That gave Cal just enough time to pull off a miracle. With only ten men on the field for the kickoff, Cal’s Kevin Moen received the ball inside the Bears' 45-yard line. After five laterals, Moen again found himself with the ball at the opponent’s 25 and ran through the band into the end zone for the improbable touchdown.
The “Play” - Stanford versus California (1982)
After much deliberation, the touchdown stood despite the band’s presence on the field and Cal won the game, 25-20.
Here are the nine more last-second victories that are cemented in football legend:
Michigan State's fumble recovery touchdown as time expired to beat Michigan in the 2015 season will go down as one of the greatest last-second game-winning scores in college football history.
The “Kick Six” - Auburn versus Alabama (2013)
This game had everything: Two top-flight teams in No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn, the SEC West title and a SEC Championship berth on the line, Nick Saban versus Gus Malzahn, AJ McCarron versus Nick Marshall.
And a last-second field goal return touchdown to give Auburn the 34-28 win.
After Auburn rallied from a 14-point deficit to tie Alabama at 21 early in the third quarter, the two teams traded scores and were knotted up at 28 with 32 seconds left in the game. With only a second remaining on the clock, Alabama lined up to try a 57-yard game-winning field goal. The attempt fell short, but Auburn punt returner Chris Davis fielded the kick in the back of the endzone with triple zeros on the clock and raced all the way to the opposite endzone for what was unofficially the longest miss field goal return in college football history.
The “Hail Flutie” - Boston College versus Miami (1984)
This back-and-forth battle between two powerhouse programs is remembered most notably because of the Hail Mary pass by Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie to beat the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes.
With 28 seconds left in the game, Flutie and the Eagles trailed 45-41, but quickly drove down to the Hurricanes’ 48-yard line to set up a pivotal final play. Flutie scrambled around the pocket to avoid oncoming defenders and hurled a pass from into the endzone, where wide receiver Gerard Phelan corralled the catch to win the game.
The “Mangum Miracle” - BYU versus Nebraska (2015)
Although BYU’s Tanner Mangum started the game as the back-up, the freshman quarterback will be remembered forever for this last-second pass to beat Nebraska in Week 1 of the 2015 season.
Mangum and the Cougars faced a 4th-and-3 with one tick left on the clock at the Cornhuskers’ 42-yard line. Unphased, Mangum unleashed a pass in the director of receiver Mitch Mathews, who somehow caught the ball among a throng of Nebraska defenders right at the goal line to score the winning touchdown for BYU with no time left in the game.
The magic continued the next week, as Mangum threw another game-winning touchdown to beat Boise State with under a minute to play in the contest.
The “Tip-toe touchdown” - Texas Tech versus Texas (2008)
Trailing by to a one-point lead with under 90 seconds in the game, Texas Tech needed an incredible drive to beat inter-state rival Texas in 2008.
Graham Harrell orchestrated a phenomenal final drive, moving the Red Raiders to the Longhorns’ 28-yard line with 15 seconds to play. After a near-interception by Texas, Harrell found wide receiver Michael Crabtree on the next play near the sidelined at the 6-yard line. With only two seconds left on the clock, Crabtree broke a tackle and tip-toed his way into the endzone for the clinching score with one second left on the clock. Texas Tech held on to win 39-33.
The “Bluegrass Miracle” - LSU versus Kentucky (2002)
On the final play of the game against unranked Kentucky and facing a three-point deficit, LSU quarterback Marcus Randall uncorked an improbable pass from the Tigers’ own 26-yard line with two seconds on the clock.
Though the pass didn’t reached the endzone, the ball was deflected by a Kentucky defender into the hands of LSU receiver Devery Henderson at the 15-yard line. Henderson broke a shoestring tackle before running into the endzone for the game-winning score.
The “Fifth Down Game” - Colorado versus Missouri (1990)
One of the most controversial endings in college football history, Colorado scored a last second touchdown on the last play of the game on mistakenly-given fifth down to beat Missouri, 33-31.
After failing to score after three downs on the goal line, the Buffaloes spiked the ball on what should have been fourth down, which would have ended the game with a Tiger win. However, the field crew didn’t flip the down marker to third down, so Colorado quarterback Charles Johnson assumed he had one more possession to score after spiking the ball on fourth, and used that chance to score as time expired to give Buffaloes the infamous win.
The “Miracle Bowl” - BYU versus SMU (1980)
SMU looked poised to beat BYU after taking a 45-25 lead with four minutes to play in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, but the Cougars 21 points in the final 2:33 to beat the Mustangs, including a Hail Mary 41-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Jim McMahon.
After scoring back-to-back touchdowns to trim Mustangs’ lead to six points, BYU blocked SMU’s punt and recovered the ball at the 41-yard line with 13 seconds to play.
As time expired, McMahon launched a pass into the endzone as time expired, where tight end Clay Brown leapt over four SMU defenders to secure the miraculous game-winning touchdown.
The “Miracle at Michigan” - Colorado versus Michigan (1994)
Colorado made a furious comeback against No. 4 Michigan, capped off by a 64-yard Hail Mary pass by quarterback Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook as time expired to give the seventh-ranked Buffaloes a 27-26 win.
With six seconds to play, Stewart threw up a pray in the direction of the end zone, where Colorado receiver Blake Anderson tipped the pass into the arms of Westbrook for the improbable score.