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The 25 best game-ending plays in college football history

Whether a field goal as time expires, an improbable Hail Mary pass or a stellar defensive stand or play, we can't get enough of fantastic finishes. Here's a look at our top 25 most memorable final college football plays (at least ones where only an extra point followed) of all time. 

 
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25. Navy 21, Army 15, Dec. 7, 1963

Navy 21, Army 15, Dec. 7, 1963
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In a game that was pushed back following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the contest's final play was memorable even though it was never run. Army had the ball, fourth down on the Navy 2-yard line with no timeouts in the final seconds The crowd noise at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium (later re-named John F. Kennedy Stadium) was so deafening that Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh was unable to call a play and not granted another official's time out.

 
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24. Tennessee 35, Notre Dame 34, Nov. 9, 1991

Tennessee 35, Notre Dame 34, Nov. 9, 1991
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Down 31-7, 13th-ranked, visiting Tennessee rallied to take the lead on No. 5 Notre Dame. However, the Irish had a chance to win, but Rob Leonard's 27-yard field-goal attempt as time expired was partially blocked, and the Volunteers capped what became known as the "Miracle at South Bend."

 
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23. Boston College 41, Notre Dame 39, Nov. 20, 1993

Boston College 41, Notre Dame 39, Nov. 20, 1993
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Sticking with the Irish, who rallied all the way back from a 38-17 hole in this one, it appeared No. 4 Notre Dame would remain unbeaten all time against Boston College. That was until the Eagles' David Gordon made a 41-yard field goal to win the game and essentially end the Irish's national championship hopes.

 
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22. Alabama 25, Auburn 23, Nov. 30, 1985

Alabama 25, Auburn 23, Nov. 30, 1985
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This was known to Alabama fans simply as "The Kick." Considered one of the best games in the storied history of the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide's Van Tiffin booted a 52-yard field goal that was plenty long, as the clock read zero, allowing Alabama to edge rival Auburn at Birmingham's Legion Field.

 
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21. Colorado 33, Missouri 31, Oct. 6, 1990

Colorado 33, Missouri 31, Oct. 6, 1990
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Not only did the famed "Fifth Down" game feature one of the most memorable and bizarre finishes in all of college football, but the final play is probably the most infamous the game's ever seen. Colorado quarterback Charles Johnson seemed to be down on his final-second, 1-yard touchdown dive, but it obviously should not have happened as officials never changed the sideline down marker leading up to that crazy finish.


 
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20. Tennessee 34, Georgia 31, Oct. 1, 2016

Tennessee 34, Georgia 31, Oct. 1, 2016
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

We begin the Hall Mary portion of this list. Tennessee won its second consecutive meeting over rival Georgia when Jauan Jennings caught Joshua Dobbs' 43-yard heave among a crowd in the end zone as time ran out. It's the only time in the last six trips to Athens that the Volunteers have knocked off the Bulldogs.  

 
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19. Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24, Nov. 2, 2013

Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24, Nov. 2, 2013
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. That's where Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp was when he grabbed a tipped 49-yard Hail Mary from quarterback Ron Kellogg III as time expired. Westerkamp, who got behind the pack at the goal line, never took his eye off the ball to give the Cornhuskers an improbable victory.  

 
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18. Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31, Oct. 22, 2011

Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31, Oct. 22, 2011
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

For as impressive as Kirk Cousins' 44-yard heave was as time expired, even more remarkable was Keith Nichol's will to get in the end zone for the Spartans. Nichol, who caught Cousins' Hail Mary just outside of the end zone after it bounced off teammate B.J. Cunningham's facemask, fought through two Wisconsin players to reach the goal line. After being ruled shy of the end zone, a review overturned the call and Michigan State sent the home crowd into a frenzy.

 
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17. BYU 33, Nebraska 28, Sept. 5, 2015

BYU 33, Nebraska 28, Sept. 5, 2015
John Peterson/Icon Sportswire

We talked about Nebraska winning on a Hail Mary against Northwestern. Two years after that dramatic triumph, the Cornhuskers were on the wrong end of a fantastic finish versus visiting BYU. As time ran out, Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum unloaded a 42-yard toss that landed into the gut of teammate Mitch Mathews, who fell back into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

 
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16. Northern Illinois 20, Maryland 13 (OT), Aug. 28, 2003

Northern Illinois 20, Maryland 13 (OT), Aug. 28, 2003
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The last time a Top 25 team visited DeKalb, Illinois, the Huskies pulled off perhaps the biggest victory in program history with this upset over the No. 15 Terps. After Northern went ahead in overtime on Josh Haldi's 20-yard touchdown pass to Dan Sheldon, Maryland got its crack. But on second down from the NIU 22, Scott McBrien's pass into the end zone bounced off the foot of defender Rob Lee and into the hands of Huskie teammate Randee Drew to secure the victory.  

 
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15. Iowa 30, LSU 25, Jan. 1, 2005

Iowa 30, LSU 25, Jan. 1, 2005
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Warren Holloway caught one touchdown pass during his career at Iowa. It just happened to be one of the most memorable scores in the history of the program. On the final play of the 2005 Capital One Bowl, Drew Tate unloaded a pass that the streaking Holloway caught down the seam and took into the end zone for an improbable 56-yard, game-winning touchdown.

 
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14. Georgia Tech 22, Florida State 16, Oct. 24, 2015

Georgia Tech 22, Florida State 16, Oct. 24, 2015
David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

When Georgia Tech and Florida State met in 2015, it was certainly memorable. Better for the Yellow Jackets. With six seconds left in the game, Georgia Tech blocked Roberto Aguayo's 56-yard field goal attempt. Yellow Jacket Lance Austin picked up the bouncing ball, turned around then streaked down the sideline 78 yards for the winning touchdown. The loss ended then-undefeated Florida State's lengthy conference winning streak.

 
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13. BYU 46, SMU 45, Dec. 19, 1980

BYU 46, SMU 45, Dec. 19, 1980
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Jim McMahon is one of the great characters in the history of organized football. He was also one of the best all-time college players. McMahon proved that during the 1980 Holiday Bowl against SMU. His 41-yard, last-second bomb into the end zone somehow landed in the hands of covered teammate Clay Brown. The Cougars kicked the extra point for the win to cap a 27-point fourth quarter and secure McMahon's star status.

 
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12. Miami (FL) 30, Duke 27, Oct. 31, 2015

Miami (FL) 30, Duke 27, Oct. 31, 2015
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Lateral fun courtesy of the Hurricanes and Blue Devils. Miami used eight laterals and covered 91 yards on a kickoff before Corn Elder broke free to cap a wild finish with a touchdown to stun Duke. There was some controversy on the play, including a penalty on Miami that was reversed, but it still made for a fantastic Halloween finish. 

 
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11. Michigan State 27, Michigan 23, Oct. 17. 2015

Michigan State 27, Michigan 23, Oct. 17. 2015
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Known as "Gift Six" or the classy "Fail to the Victors," Michigan appeared headed to victory. But punter Blake O'Neill flubbed the snap in his own territory, and Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson picked up the ball and rambled his way 38 yards into the end zone as time ran out for an improbable victory for the visitors. Watts-Jackson suffered a dislocated hip when the dust settled, but the pain might have been worth it.

 
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10. Trinity (TX) 28, Millsaps (Miss.) 24, Oct. 27. 2007

Trinity (TX) 28, Millsaps (Miss.) 24, Oct. 27. 2007
Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

We're not partial to just the FBS crowd. In one of the wildest finishes ever seen at any level of college football, Division III Trinity University, out of San Antonio, completed 15 laterals on the final play of the game that started near its own 40-yard line. When mayhem was over and the dust settled, Riley Curry had scored the improbable touchdown to stun Millsaps on a play that's become known in some circles as "Lateralpalooza."

 
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9. LSU 33, Kentucky 30, Nov. 9, 2002

LSU 33, Kentucky 30, Nov. 9, 2002
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The "Bluegrass Miracle" is something folks in Lexington don't want to talk about. At LSU, they probably still can't stop. Tigers quarterback Marcus Randall aired it out down field and teammate Devery Henderson never took his eye off the ball, which was tipped in traffic. He grabbed it with his fingertips between Wildcats defenders and then strided into the end zone for a remarkable 75-yard touchdown and stunning victory. 

 
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8. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (OT), Jan. 1, 2007

Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (OT), Jan. 1, 2007
Steve Grayson/WireImage

Ian Johnson's "Statue Left" winning two-point conversion run was the icing on the cake of Boise State's seemingly improbable Fiesta Bowl victory over heavily favored Oklahoma. However, the Broncos pulled out all the stops — and gadget plays — to get to that point and record one of the great college football upsets.

 
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7. Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT), Jan. 8, 2018

Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT), Jan. 8, 2018
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Game-winning touchdowns in overtime are special no matter when and where they happen. When it comes with the national championship on the the line, it's the stuff dreams are made of. Like when then-backup Tua Tagovailoa connected with an in-stride DeVonta Smith on a 41-yard touchdown pass to cement the Crimson Tide as national champions of the 2017 season.

 
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6. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32, Sept. 1, 2007

Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32, Sept. 1, 2007
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Back when it was an FCS program, Appalachian State played Michigan down to the wire at The Big House in 2007. However, it appeared the fifth-ranked Wolverines would escape with a one-point victory. That was until the Mountaineers' Corey Lynch blocked Jason Gingell's 37-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds to help his team pull off one of the biggest upsets in college football history. 

 
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5. Central Michigan 30, Oklahoma State 27, Sept. 10, 2016

Central Michigan 30, Oklahoma State 27, Sept. 10, 2016
Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports

There was controversy surrounding Central Michigan's stunning last-second victory at Oklahoma State, but in the end the play would stand. And what a play — and finish — it was . Cooper Rush's 42-yard pass to Jesse Kroll, who pitched the ball to teammate Corey Willis, who then out-sprinted Cowboys defenders to barely reach the end zone for the biggest victory in Chippewas history. 

 
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4. Colorado 27, Michigan 26, Sept. 24, 1994

Colorado 27, Michigan 26, Sept. 24, 1994
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Before Bill McCartney made football relevant at Colorado, he was an assistant coach at Michigan — also his native state. So it was more than special when McCartney's 1994 Buffaloes walked out of The Big House with one of the most dramatic victories in the history of the stadium. As time expired, Michael Westbrook got behind the pack in the end zone to cradle Kordell Stewart's tipped 64-yard toss with no time left on the clock, stunning the crowd of more than 106,000.

 
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3. Auburn 34, Alabama 28, Nov. 30, 2013

Auburn 34, Alabama 28, Nov. 30, 2013
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Nearly 30 years after Alabama won the Iron Bowl on the "The Kick," Auburn did it via the "Kick Six." When Adam Griffith's 57-yard field goal attempt with one second on the clock was short, Auburn's Chris Davis caught it 9 yards deep in the end zone. He ran left, zigged a bit toward the sidelined, zagged a little and unbelievably made his way into the opposite end zone. The return capped the victory for the Tigers and the greatest moment in the history of   this famed rivalry. 

 
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2. California 25, Stanford 20, Nov. 20, 1982

California 25, Stanford 20, Nov. 20, 1982
Don Feria/Getty Images for Versus.com

"The Play" or "Stanford Band Play" is still somewhat indescribable. It made do-or-die lateraling of the ball vogue. Games — as we've seen on this list — actually continue to be won on such instances. But there might not be a crazier finale to a game in any sport, considering the circumstances. The laterals, missed penalties and Cal's Kevin Moen excitedly smashing into a Stanford trombonist, all made for a memorable legacy.

 
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1. Boston College 47, Miami (FL) 45, Nov. 23, 1984

Boston College 47, Miami (FL) 45, Nov. 23, 1984
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Known as the "Hail Flutie," it was the play that pretty much won Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie the Heisman Trophy. It's also one of the greatest plays in all of sports history. The diminutive Flutie became a legend when his last-second scramble and 60-plus-yard heave into the end zone at the Orange Bowl was caught by buddy Gerard Phelan. The score, which officially covered 48 yards, capped an Eagles comeback victory over the mighty Hurricanes.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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