No. 3 Iowa beats No. 4 Penn State 23-20, fans storm field

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa was in victory formation and the emotion was about to spill over as dusk settled over Kinnick Stadium.

Spencer Petras took the last snap, took a knee and took off, apparently thinking he could get off the field before the students and other fans pouring out of the end zone seats could catch him.

He barely made it to midfield. That’s where he and his teammates were swarmed and the mosh pit formed on the Hawkeyes logo to celebrate No. 3 Iowa’s hard-earned 23-20 victory over fourth-ranked Penn State on Saturday.

“It’s a pretty special place when the lights go on and the sun goes down,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Petras threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Nico Ragaini to complete Iowa’s comeback from a two-touchdown deficit, all accomplished while Penn State’s offense did next to nothing after quarterback Sean Clifford was knocked out of the game.

The Hawkeyes (6-0, 3-0) took control of the Big Ten West with their 12th straight victory and thrust themselves into the College Football Playoff conversation.

“This was like the biggest of the big-time, which was pretty awesome,” Ragaini said. “You don’t get moments like this every day, taking advantage of the opportunity. It was a mentally draining game for sure, and physically draining.

“On the sideline I was so emotionally drained that I almost teared up out there because we care about each other so much. We all want each other to succeed.”

An hour after the game, Ferentz choked up as he reflected on his players’ locker room celebration.

“It’s fun,” he said, pausing. “That’s what they’re supposed to do.”

Penn State (5-1, 2-1) lost for the first time in 10 games and headed back to Happy Valley with a list of injuries that could make its path through the rest of the season difficult.

“It’s just a bump in the road,” Lions defensive end Arnole Ebiketie said. “We have to get better.”

The Hawkeyes’ grinding offense isn’t built to play from behind, but it managed to come back in the biggest game at Kinnick Stadium since then-No. 1 Iowa beat then-No. 2 Michigan in 1985.

Iowa won the field-position battle thanks to the work of punter Tory Taylor, who repeatedly pinned Penn State deep in its own end after Clifford went out in the second quarter.

Iowa chipped away with field goals by Caleb Shudak to cut it to 20-16. The winning play came on the first play after the Hawkeyes got the ball at the Penn State 44 with 6:35 left.

Petras rolled to his right and found Ragaini alone on the left side. Linebacker Curtis Jacobs knocked him out of bounds, but not before he got the ball over the goal line. All-America center Tyler Linderbaum was the first man to greet him in the end zone.

Penn State coach James Franklin didn’t disclose the nature of Clifford’s injury. He was hurt with the Lions leading 17-3 when he took a big hit from linebacker Jack Campbell, and he was out of uniform on the sideline in the second half.

After Ta’Quan Roberson took over for Clifford in the middle of the second quarter, Penn State managed just 50 yards on 46 plays the rest of the way.

“We talk about all of the important statistics all of the time, and we didn’t do a good job on any of them,” Franklin said. “We did not win the field position battle, we did not win the turnover battle, we did not win the penalty battle, we didn’t win the explosive play battle.”

Five of Roberson’s series started inside the Penn State 10, and a sixth began at the 11. The sellout crowd of 70,000 had a major impact when the Lions were in their own end, their roars forcing numerous false starts as Roberson’s claps for the snap went unheard by his linemen.

On the Nittany Lions’ last three possessions, they turned over the ball on downs, Matt Hankins came up with Iowa’s fourth interception of the game and they turned it over on downs again.

“We weren’t counting on the interceptions but that was a great job there,” Ferntz said. “We played physical, knocked their quarterback out – hope he’s fine. That’s the team we have.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Penn State: Franklin did not disclose the nature of Clifford’s injury. The Lions also lost a couple of key defensive players. P.J. Mustipher, their 326-pound run stopper, went out less than two minutes after kickoff with a left knee injury and didn’t return. Neither did safety Jonathan Sutherland, who left in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury.

Iowa: It continues to be all about defense with this team. The offense responded when it had to in the second half, but defense was special throughout. Four more interceptions gave the Hawkeyes a nation-leading 16. The only sour note was an injury to cornerback Riley Moss, who appeared to injure his left knee after an interception.

KNOCKING OFF THE RANKED

Iowa beat a Top 25 team for the third time this season and has won six in a row against ranked opponents for the first time since 1960. It was Iowa’s first win over a top-five team since beating then-No. 3 Ohio State in 2017.

UP NEXT

Iowa hosts Purdue on Oct. 16. The Hawkeyes have lost three of the last four in the series.

Penn State has an open date before hosting Illinois on Oct. 23.

Watson, Troy win Sun Belt title over Coastal Carolina, 45-26

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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TROY, Ala. – Gunnar Watson and the streaking Troy Trojans came out with a flurry of big plays and a defense that was barely budging.

Watson passed for 318 yards and three long touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-26 victory – their 10th straight – over Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Saturday.

“It seemed like everything was going right for us,” Watson said.

The early domination didn’t last, but it was enough.

The Trojans (11-2) raced ahead 31-0 and with a 316-22 advantage in total yards en route to their Sun Belt-record seventh league title. Coach Jon Sumrall‘s first season began 1-2, with one loss on a Hail Mary pass, and ended with fans celebrating Troy’s first Sun Belt title since 2017 by storming the field and bringing down a goal post.

A group of students carried part of the goal post out of the stadium to the parking lot. It ended up in a nearby fountain.

“That probably will be one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have here,” Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said. “That was awesome for me. I don’t know how they’re paying for that.”

By the time three-time Sun Belt player of the year Grayson McCall got the offense going for Coastal Carolina (9-3), it was all but over. McCall started at quarterback after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

“They came out and really took it to us from the opening drive and we could not respond at all there in the first half,” said Chanticleers coach Jamey Chadwell. “I was proud of our team trying to come back in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort and fight.”

Watson completed 12 of 17 passes, including touchdowns of 67 yards and 36 yards to Rajae’ Johnson and a 65-yarder to Deshon Stoudemire. Watson was hit as he was throwing the 67-yarder with Johnson stretching out to grab it.

Johnson then snagged the ball one-handed to answer the Chanticleers’ second touchdown.

“I saw the replay and I was like, `Holy crap,”‘ Watson said.

DK Billingsley ran for three touchdowns, including a 33-yarder, for the Trojans.

Troy, which was coming off three straight five-win seasons, hasn’t lost since that Appalachian State Hail Mary on Sept. 17. Sumrall & Co. left the field in a much better mood this time.

“That was as good of a feeling as I’ve ever had after a game,” he said. “These kids have worked so hard and they’ve done so much and they’ve been through a lot.”

McCall overcame a rough start to complete 29 of 41 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a late interception. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown.

McCall led touchdown drives heading into and coming out of halftime. He said his status was a gametime decision.

“I felt good in warmups so I told coach I was good to go,” McCall said.

The momentum didn’t last.

T.J. Jackson then had a strip sack and fumble recovery inside Coastal Carolina’s 10 to set up a touchdown.

The stats evened out but the score never got too uncomfortable for Troy. Coastal Carolina actually ended with a 432-411 edge in total yards.

Coastal Carolina has lost two straight lopsided games, including a 47-7 defeat to James Madison amid speculation about Chadwell’s future. He said he has spoken to Liberty about replacing coach Hugh Freeze but “I have not signed anything with them or anything of that nature.”

TAKEAWAY

Coastal Carolina: McCall and the offense took too long to get going for the Chanticleers to have a chance, but the defense struggled to bring down both Troy’s running backs and receivers in the first half. Still, the Chanticleers have won 31 games over the last three seasons.

Troy: Might have earned its second Top 25 ranking and first since 2016. The Trojans have their longest win streak since winning 11 in a row in 1995. Their six Sun Belt titles had been tied with Arkansas State.

SLOW DRIVE

The fumble recovery set up a drive that didn’t go far but took nearly four minutes. Troy finally scored after the eight-play, 7-yard drive was kept alive by a personal foul on a field goal.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their bowl destinations.

Finn, Stuart lead Toledo to first MAC title since 2017

Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
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DETROIT – Dequan Finn passed for a touchdown and rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries as Toledo captured its first Mid-American Conference championship since 2017 by defeating Ohio 17-7 on Saturday afternoon.

Finn completed 16 of 25 passes for 154 yards. Jacquez Stuart rushed for 93 yards on nine carries, including a 29-yard touchdown. Micah Kelly added 53 rushing yards for the Rockets (8-5), who lost their last two conference games.

“We’ve been through a lot the whole year,” Finn said. “It’s been a rollercoaster for us. Up and down, fought through adversity and had some rough patches. But ultimately, we stayed together as one.”

Toledo is headed to a bowl game but since the MAC doesn’t have a postseason pecking order, its destination is unknown. The Arizona, Idaho Potato and Quick Lane bowls — the latter also at Detroit’s Ford Field — are the most likely possibilities.

“This is everybody’s goal,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said of the conference championship. “This is what everybody wants to do. This is where everybody says they’re going to be. It’s one thing to get there. It’s another to win it.”

Sieh Bangura rushed for 56 yards on 20 carries and the lone touchdown for the Bobcats (9-4), whose seven-game winning streak was snapped. CJ Harris completed 17 of 31 passes for 163 yards and was intercepted once.

Harris was making his second start since MAC Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Ohio is 0-5 in the MAC title game.

“My heart hurts for our football team,” coach Tim Albin said. “This has been about our journey, not a destination. I boldly said on MAC (preseason) media day I thought we could make a championship run. That’s what we did and we came up short.”

The Rockets led 10-7 at halftime.

They drove 75 yards after the opening kickoff with Stuart scoring on his 29-yard run up the middle.

“Very efficient,” Candle said of first possession. “That kind of built some confidence to play efficient offense the rest of the way.”

Ohio tied it on Bangura’s 2-yard run midway through the second quarter, finishing off an 84-yard drive.

Toledo’s Thomas Cluckey kicked a 44-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the half.

The Rockets drove to the Bobcats’ 10 midway through the third quarter but passed up a field goal attempt and turned the ball over on downs.

Finn’s 16-yard scoring pass to DeMeer Blankumsee completed a methodical 16-play, 90-yard drive that gave Toledo a 17-7 lead with 10:36 remaining.

Ohio was limited to 262 yards of total offense.

“Their front seven controlled it, particularly in the second half,” Albin said. “We had trouble running the ball in between the tackles and it made us one-dimensional.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Toledo is now 4-3 in the MAC title game, with its previous championships coming in 2001, ’04 and ’17. Ohio’s long drought without a conference championship continued. The Bobcats haven’t won a MAC championship since 1968.

UP NEXT

Both teams are headed to bowl games TBD on Sunday. Toledo is bowl eligible for the 13th straight season.