Western Kentucky set an NCAA tournament record on Tuesday night, overcoming a 16-point deficit in five minutes to oust Mississippi Valley State and earn the right to play Kentucky. BYU had more time to bridge its gap, but looked completely over-matched when it trailed Iona by 25 points in the first half.
An especially mad opening to the Madness it was, and a continuation of a college sports season that rollicking rallies defined.
Let’s take a trip in the not-so-wayback machine to last autumn. There were no shortage of furious finishes throughout the 2011 college football campaign. Below are a few of my personal favorites.
Baylor at Kansas, Nov. 12
Scenario: Baylor trails 24-3 in the early fourth quarter
The Oklahoma game marked the explosion of Robert Griffin III’s Heisman candidacy, but the fuse was lit a week earlier in Lawrence.
A Kansas defense that ranked near the bottom of the nation in most defensive categories played inspired football through three quarters, holding the potent Baylor offense to just three points.
Philip Montgomery went more aggressive with his play calls in the final quarters. BU attacked the Jayhawks with quick, accurate strikes from Griffin to his cache of receivers. Of course, Griffin’s uncanny ability to improvise sparked the comeback.
He blew by the entire Jayhawk defense en route to a 49-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-10. Yet leading two touchdowns, the score seemingly ripped KU’s heart out.
Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 10
Scenario: Notre Dame fritters away a 24-7 fourth quarter lead, but reclaims the lead 31-28 with just 30 seconds remaining.
The September rivalry set a wonderful foundation for the season. Notre Dame’s talented defense kept Denard Robinson in check as he was still acclimating to Al Borges’ offense. The Irish cashed in with four scores.
Michigan’s defense buckled down, compensating for its stagnation on the opposite side of the ball. Robinson rushed for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, then quickly after hit Jeremy Gallon for another score. But nearly nine minutes elapsed before the Wolverines would strike again. By clamping down on Tommy Rees and Co., the UM defense did its duty.
The drive that gave UM its lead culminated on a 21-yard pass from Robinson to Vincent Smith, with just over a minute left. Perhaps the exuberance of a lead was too much for the Wolverine defense — Rees led the Irish down field in 40 seconds to retake the advantage.
Way too much time left for Robinson, who went superhuman on the last drive. The UM quarterback didn’t have a great game: 11-24, three interceptions. But he did have a great game: four touchdowns passing, one rushing, 338 yards in the air and 108 on the ground. The ultimate Jekyll and Hyde performance.
Houston at Louisiana Tech, Sept. 17
Scenario: Louisiana Tech pulls ahead 34-7 with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter
Conversely to aforementioned Kansas, a bad defense that simply played out of its collective skull against BU, Louisiana Tech proved to have a very good defense through the ’11 campaign. Its defensive prowess powered the Bulldogs to the WAC championship, and for nearly three quarters it stifled the single most prolific scoring team in college football. However, La. Tech learned what so many teams discovered throughout the season: it doesn’t take the Cougars long to get its points.
Even so, four touchdowns in less than six minutes? The term “video game numbers” is often used to describe high octane offense, but UH with Case Keenum transcended video game. Does X-Box even have an achievement for such a feat? EA Sports’ NCAA Football series wouldn’t even allow 28 points in 51/2 minutes.
Keenum set up the Cougars with 351 yards passing, but actually had one of his least impressive outings of the season. His big arm set the table for Bryce Beall to cross the goal line against the No. 29 La. Tech rush defense.
Clemson at Maryland, Oct. 8
Scenario: Maryland builds two separate 18-point leads
Clemson has the dubious distinction of being the program most synonymous with losing heartbreakers, so it seems like poetic justice that the in the Tigers’ ACC championship season, they turned the tables.
Randy Edsall made a switch at quarterback, from Danny O’Brien to C.J. Brown, which seemed to reinvigorate the Terp offense. UM hit Clemson with a barrage of 28 points in just 18 minutes over the first half.
In one stretch, Brown threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another. He led UM to leads of 28-10 and 35-17. CU chipped away though, the defense adjusting to Gary Crowton’s play calls (imagine that) and special teams exploiting miscues.
None was bigger than Sammy Watkins’ 89-yard kick return. Watkins was working over the Terrapins at wideout throughout the half, which might seem like incentive enough to boot away from the frosh phenom. The decision not to immediately erased Brown’s third scoring pass, a blood-stemming score that put UM ahead for a third different time — and the final time.
Maryland at NC State, Nov. 26
Scenario: NC State is booed off the field at halftime and trails Maryland 41-14 with 8 minutes left in the third quarter
Apologies Terrapins, but two of the most exciting comebacks of the season came at Maryland’s expense. NCSU was playing for its postseason life when the Terps visited Raleigh in the regular season finale.
The yin of the Wolfpack’s rally and yang of Maryland’s meltdown prove how much perception can hinge on a few short moments. If UM carries its momentum through the second half, the Terrapins finish ’11 with a road win (it would have been Maryland’s only one) and a high note on which to build for 2012. Conversely, NC State ends a disappointing season that began with controversy, and Tom O’Brien’s questioned for his decision to roll with Mike Glennon.
Fate’s scale tipped dramatically in those 22 minutes. A Belk Bowl win has NCSU heading into 2012 with the look of an ACC dark horse contender, while UM is in turmoil.
Eastern Kentucky at Jacksonville State, Nov. 5
Scenario: An 83-yard Washaun Ealey touchdown rush puts Jacksonville State ahead 48-24 with just 7:25 left in a battle for the Ohio Valley Conference lead
Two-time defending OVC champion Jacksonville State needed to knock off Eastern Kentucky to keep its hope of a third league title and second playoff berth alive. Things looked great when Georgia transfer running back Washaun Ealey erupted 83 yards on the first play from scrimmage, midway through the final quarter.
Ealey went for 217 yards and a pair of scores on the day, but the Gamecocks could have used one more.
Ahead 48-24, JSU surrendered a quick, 60-yard bomb by quarterback T.J. Pryor. No sweat. Six minutes remaining and the lead was still three scores.
The Pryor touchdown looked even less consequential as JSU moved the ball back into Colonel territory — until Jordan Allen coughed up the ball. EKU’s Anthony Brown ran it back 71 yards, and the Colonels were within 10.
Alright, a much more high pressure scenario for the Gamecocks, but a two-score lead with 5:19 left seems safe with as effectively as JSU moved the ball on EKU all afternoon.
But the ensuing onside kick was recovered by EKU. Pryor again went to work, moving the ball the 58 yards to pay dirt almost singlehandedly in 1:05. An energized EKU defense forced a three-and-out to follow, and a short Coty Blanchard punt was made shorter by a long return.
Pryor again made quick work, hooking up on a 37-yard touchdown to Tyrone Goard, and the comeback was complete.
Pryor’s encore may have been too quick, as the Gamecocks got the ball back with a little over a minute remaining. Blanchard and Ealey tag-teamed duties and JSU got into the red zone in a matter of seconds. Jack Crowe burned his final timeout with 17 seconds left, and the Gamecocks at the Colonel three.
JSU took two runs at the end zone, but Calvin Middleton was shut out at the 1-yard line as time expired.